What Is Spastic Hypertonia?

What Is Spastic HypertoniaSpastic hypertonia is when a body part has too much muscle tone, making it difficult to move. Spastic hypertonia affects the muscles and may occur as a result of a stroke, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, congenital disability, or spinal cord injury. Other neurological conditions can lead to spastic hypertonia, so stay vigilant for symptoms.

Spastic hypertonia may result from disease or injury, and the muscle does not receive messages. The nerves and motor system in our body make everything work. If something is wrong, the brain will make you stop or adjust your movements.

How does spastic hypertonia develop?

Most often, spasticity occurs when there is a spinal or brain injury. Spinal cord trauma affects the area below the injury site exponentially. The condition develops differently in everyone; sometimes it takes weeks, while in others it happens instantly. Symptoms can initially seem small, and some people may not seek treatment until it worsens. In other cases, it is a slight twitch that is mistaken for a voluntary function but is involuntary and may be a sign of spastic hypertonia. Only the muscles affected by the motor nerves will develop spasticity.

What does “spasticity” mean?

Different definitions related to the disease are often used interchangeably. People usually put them all in the same category or do not realize it is a sign of spasticity. Muscle spasms, for example, are spasticity, but muscle spasms can happen to anyone, with or without an injury.

An eye twitch or muscle knot are common examples of muscle spasms. You will see these spasms in the feet, arms, thighs, hands, and ribs. Muscle spasms are caused by overuse or underuse of muscles, fatigue, stress, low magnesium, or low potassium. You can most often stretch or rest, and a spasm will go away. If the spasms happen frequently, it is important to get a medical evaluation. Infrequent spasms are typically not cause for concern.

Spasticity is an involuntary contraction, and it describes frequent spasms in muscles. Hypertonia is when a resting muscle has too much spasticity and resists movement. In extreme cases, the muscle will not respond to manual stretch either. Tone is a term for intermittent uncontrolled muscle movement lacking rigidity, similar to hypertonia. Lastly, clonus is a spasticity type with a rhythmic and continuous pattern. It feels like a beat in your muscle, usually in the leg or arm.

What are the symptoms of spastic hypertonia?

Symptoms of spastic hypertonia will look different depending on your neurological condition and prognosis. A decreased sensation in your body can mean that your spasticity will appear as autonomic dysreflexia (AD). You may experience symptoms such as:

  • Overactive reflexes
  • Involuntary movements
  • Clonus
  • Tightness
  • Pain
  • Increased muscle tone
  • Frequent spasms

Children who suffer from spastic hypertonia may experience developmental issues and delays. Complications are prevalent when people experience difficulties in accomplishing daily activities, such as basic hygiene. Abnormal posture may lead to difficulty breathing. Any complication tends to only worsen the condition and requires changes to your treatment plan.

After a spinal cord injury, it is important to rest and work with doctors to receive treatment. Initially, the muscles are limp, but once the six-week mark hits, the muscles begin to form spasticity. Stroke patients can see spasticity occur immediately, and brain injury patients may see some signs after a week. However, everyone will have a different experience.

The diagnostic process for spinal and nerve injuries

When you suffer from a nervous system injury like one to your spinal cord or brain, it will impact your sensory and motor neurons. The nervous system is very complex; therefore it is necessary to have specialists review your injury and diagnose your condition. The spinal cord sections that often lead to spasticity are the cervical or thoracic, which are higher up on the spine. To diagnose spasticity and determine the type, you will need to get a full medical assessment that will include the following steps:

  • Reviewing your family and your medical history
  • A complete physical examination
  • An MRI or CT or both
  • An EMG which tests your muscle function
  • A nerve conduction study that tests nerve function
  • Nervous system evaluations including:
    • Mental state
    • Sensory exam – sight, tastes, smell, balance, and touch
    • Motor examination – strength, muscle groups, and reflexes

It is essential to test every nerve and muscle function after spinal cord trauma and determine the probability of complication, spastic hypertonia, and treatment.

Can conditions like spastic hypertonia be treated?

Once you have a diagnosis, your medical team can devise a treatment plan that works for you. First, your team will try non-prescription treatments like muscle stretches and light exercises specific to the paralyzed body part. Self-calming measures, meditation, and distractions are other noninvasive methods to combat spasticity. While you can begin with conservative treatments, these conditions often require more invasive ones. The severity of your injury will also determine which treatment options are best suited to your needs.

Various drugs may help, but you need to find the medication that works best for you. You can also have oral medicines that relax the muscles but are not specific to one muscle group. These medications affect all the muscles in your body. Conversely, injectable medications weaken the muscles to reduce muscle spasms, and you generally need these injections every six months. Injections are specific to the affected area and do not have the same side effects as oral medications.

Other treatment options include electrical stimulation to transmit impulses through an electrode on the skin’s surface or surgery, in which a doctor implants a device. There are different types of surgeries available in addition to physical therapy.

If you suffer from a spinal injury due to someone else’s negligence, the responsible party should be held accountable. At McNicholas & McNicholas, our Los Angeles personal injury attorneys focus on the client and handle the legal process while clients are given the opportunity to heal from their injuries. Schedule a consultation today by calling our office at 310-474-1582, or completing our contact form.

Please note that this blog is not to be construed as legal advice. Because every case is fact-specific, you should consult directly with an attorney to obtain legal advice specific to your situation.