Study: Lack of common description terms may delay spasticity recognition, treatment

September 06, 2023
The results of a new study emphasize the variable nature of multiple sclerosis spasticity and the lack of a common language to describe symptoms. The findings underscore the importance of education, earlier recognition, and customized treatments tailored to the severity and duration of spasticity symptoms.

Experience varies among individuals with MS and spasticity, as they may not recognize it as spasticity or have the language to describe their symptoms. This can lead to potential delays in diagnosis and treatment.

Symptoms and Emotions Exploration Needed in MS Spasticity was an online survey conducted by a team of U.S. researchers and completed by 1,177 individuals in 2021. It sought to capture symptoms of spasticity, variability of symptoms, specific spasticity triggers, and how conversations with physicians were initiated. The average age of the participants was 57 years old and was 78 percent women. 

Prior to spasticity onset, 65 percent of respondents felt minimally prepared or unprepared for possibly developing spasticity and were unaware that spasticity manifests as part of MS. 

Eighty percent experienced spasticity daily, which was variable in severity and duration. Spasticity was triggered by a range of factors and 90 percent of those surveyed were unable to predict when it would occur or its severity. Day-to-day variability of spasticity prevented 65 percent of respondents from doing things they wished to do. Sixty percent were confused by their symptoms, not recognizing them as spasticity. Although 91 percent reported experiencing muscle spasms, only 69 percent used “muscle spasms” to describe their symptoms. Other descriptors included “muscle tightness,” “stiffness,” “cramping,” and “pain.” 

After recognizing spasticity, 78 percent initiated discussions with their physicians, 52 percent wished they had done so sooner, and 42 percent delayed the conversation by up to or more than a year.

The findings were published in the International Journal of MS Care.

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