12 Common Spasticity Triggers, From UTIs to Stress

12 Common Spasticity Triggers, From UTIs to Stress

by Sue Jones
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If you use medical equipment like a wheelchair, orthotics, or braces due to multiple sclerosis, stroke, or an injury, it’s a good idea to check to make they still fit well and don’t look too worn down. If they aren’t functioning well, they may be more likely to cause skin irritation and breakdown that triggers your spasticity.

Fatigue

Whether it’s muscle fatigue or generally feeling wiped out, that so-tired-you-can’t-lift-your-head feeling can play a factor in spasticity. Fatigue is also closely connected with stress and illness, two other factors that can increase your spasticity risks, according to a 2013 study published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.4 While we don’t know exactly why fatigue can trigger spasticity for some people, one 2015 study published in Physiotherapy Canada theorized that people may perceive the increased muscle stiffness from fatigue as a worsening of spasticity symptoms.4

Stress and anxiety

Speaking of stress, emotional stress, anxiety, depression, or overall changes in your mental health have a close connection to your physical health. If you have a sudden spike in your stress levels (say, your in-laws decide to stop by unannounced), this could be a trigger for your spasticity, possibly due to the increased muscle tension associated with high-stress situations.

Fractured bones

If you have a spinal cord injury or other condition that affects your ability to sense your extremities, a fracture (broken bone) can happen without you knowing it. An event as simple as hitting your foot against a door could lead to an undetected injury, Dr. Cabahug explains, which can then trigger spasticity. Again, any kind of irritation or change to the body can trigger spasms.

Relapse or worsening of an underlying condition

Sometimes increased spasticity can be a side effect from a condition progressing. For example, if you have M.S. and go through a period when your symptoms come back or become more intense, spasticity can flare too. Spasticity can also become more pronounced after a recurrence, such as having another stroke.

Pregnancy-related changes

As if pregnancy doesn’t come with enough curveballs, hormonal swings—not to mention the fatigue associated with pregnancy and overall body changes—can make spasticity worse.1 You can also experience spasticity in the postpartum period. As your hormones adjust to new levels, this can trigger muscle spasms, even if you didn’t have problems during your pregnancy.

Menstrual cycle changes

This one seems to hit people with M.S. who were assigned female at birth especially hard. An estimated 69% of people assigned female at birth with relapsing-remitting M.S. noted their spasticity worsened immediately before and sometimes during their menstrual cycle, according to an article in the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.5 Like in pregnancy, the reason this happens likely has something to do with the change in hormone levels setting off the spasms.

High humidity and extreme temperatures

While scorching hot days are no fun for anyone, people with certain nervous system disorders and spinal cord injuries may experience temperature dysregulation. This means your body may not recognize when it’s hot or cold. When it’s drafty, your nerves may not tell you to put on your Snuggie (is that still a thing?), and when it’s hot, you may not realize a sweater is a bit overkill. In the meantime the temperature changes can wreak havoc on your body—triggering muscle spasms—without you even noticing.6 Why temperature changes trigger spasticity for some people isn’t entirely understood by experts, but it may have something to do with those hyperactive nerves.

What causes sudden spasticity?

Spasticity can come on so fast that you’re left reeling in pain, wondering exactly what happened. It’s usually due to one of three causes: Something has triggered your muscle spasms, your condition is progressing, or you have a condition that has gone undiagnosed or untreated.

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