Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis can, naturally, have an enormous impact on your life. You may need to make some lifestyle changes and try a few treatments to help manage the various symptoms, including spasticity. Spasticity is a common MS symptom, especially as the disease progresses.
Spasticity can happen when the nerve pathways in the brain and spinal cord that govern muscle function become compromised in some way, which is typical of MS When this occurs, muscles contract involuntarily, often leading to abnormal tightness, spasms, and pain, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Because spasticity produces painful, uncontrollable spasms of extremities (especially the legs), performing daily tasks like walking or even standing can seem near impossible at times, especially during MS flares when symptoms get worse.
While there is no cure for spaasticity or MS, a treatment plan tailored to your needs can decrease symptoms, improve mobility, and contribute to a better quality of life. Below, SELF spoke to three people with MS about how spasticity affects their lives and how they manage the symptoms.
1. “I’ve had to become aware of triggers, individuals, and environments that create stressful situations.”
Autumn Grant, 29, was diagnosed with MS in March 2020, two days after her business was hit by the Nashville tornado, and nearly four years after dealing with several bous of illnesses. For Grant, MS spasticity makes her muscles become tight, experience contractions, and feel fatigued. In addition, she deals with painful joint stiffness and lower back pain. “The pain, fatigue, and spasticity are mentally draining and can become very frustrating,” Grant tells SELF. “All you want to do is get better, but you feel like you’re in a battle with your own body.”
There are times when Grant feels so helpless she gets mad at her own body. During those instances, she has to remind herself that she didn’t choose this, but she can choose her outlook on life, along with how she approaches environmental and emotional triggers that make her MS symptoms such as spasticity worse. “I’ve had to become aware of emotional triggers, individuals, and environments that create stressful situations,” she explains. One example: “My body does not like the cold weather, and I tend to have more relapses, including worsening spasticity, in the winter months,” Grant says. However, in the summer months, she’s more active and believes that routine exercise, stretching, and movement help preserve her quality of life.
To help with spasticity, Grant relies on medication, yoga poses, stretching, and taking Epsom salt baths to relax her muscles as well. She also has found that supplements like magnesium provide some relief for her symptoms. (Magnesium deficiency can bring about muscle cramps or spasms, according to the US National Library of Medicine, and there has been some research into how magnesium supplementation may affect spasticity in people with conditions like MS, but much more research is necessary.1Grant also wears by an acupressure mat that provides massage and much needed-relief daily.