According to the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation, spasticity means stiffness. When demyelination occurs in the nerves that regulate muscle tone, the result often is stiffness or spasticity. Because there are many nerves in the brain and spinal cord that regulate movement, spasticity is a common problem in Multiple Sclerosis (MS). The stiffness often is minimal and not bothersome. In fact, a person sometimes needs the stiffness provided by spasticity to stand or pivot. At other times stiffness may become painful and may interfere with performance activities of daily living. Spasticity tends to occur most frequently in a specific group of muscles that are responsible for maintaining upright posture. These muscles are called antigravity or postural muscles. They include the muscles of the calf (gastrocnemius), thigh (quadriceps), buttock (gluteus maximus), groin (adductor), and occasionally the back (erector spinae). When spasticity is present, the increased stiffness in the muscles means that a great deal of energy is required to perform daily activities.
Do you ever feel like you look like Frankenstein trying to walk? I do. I remember watching the original 1931 Frankenstein movie on TV when I was a little girl. Boris Karloff played Frankenstein’s monster. Back when that movie was filmed, actors and actresses “overplayed” a lot of parts and so did Karloff when he performed as the monster. He was very stiff and flailed his arms a lot. When I was a very young child, the movie was very scary.
When those of us with MS have those “Frankenstein” moments, it is still scary. It is hard to balance, painful and easy to fall during those times. Although my spasticity is not an everyday occurrence, it does happen quite often. Just walking across the room becomes a tightrope act and often leads to sitting down and making the best of a bad situation.
There are medications that doctors prescribe for this condition such as Valium and clonazepam. Although these may help, most of us are hesitant to take them because (1) they often become habit forming and (2) they make us feel woozy and in a dazed state. Many times we have to resort to taking these types of medications, but only if the situation becomes the norm rather than sporadic.
Myself, I think Frankenstein was a vastly misunderstood character. If you watch the 1931 version, he was a kind creature who was unjustly accused because he was a “monster”, which was not his fault. Many times those of us with MS are often looked on as “freakish”, “different”, “odd”, and such. We may not be able to do anything permanent to calm our “monster”, but some days we can tame him a little a make him move to OUR beat!!!