Spasticity treatment exercises don’t just target your muscles — they help rewire your brain.
Since the root cause of spasticity lies in the brain and nervous system, rehabilitation starts there.
To help you overcome spasticity and get stiff muscles to relax, we’ll share the best exercises to help “get the brain on board.”
Plus, you’ll find a few bonus tips at the end with more techniques to further reduce spasticity.
Get ready to loosen up and find sweet relief from spasticity.
The Little Known Cause of Spasticity
Spasticity is characterized by stiff, tight muscles that result from disrupted signals from the central nervous system. Spasticity is a particular type of hypertonia (increased muscle tone), where the spasms of the muscle are increased by movement. This means that if someone tries to move your spastic arm, it may tighten up even more during that movement.
Please note, this does NOT mean that you should avoid moving the affected body part.
This condition is often a secondary effect of neurological injuries like stroke, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, and multiple sclerosis.
The best way to understand spasticity is by looking at the problem in relation to the brain and nervous system:
Spasticity & The Nervous System
Normally your muscles are in constant communication with your brain (via motor neurons) about how much tension they’re feeling.
When a neurological injury damages this communication, the muscles no longer receive proper motor signals.
As a result, the affected muscles enter a prolonged state of contraction, often with an inability to relax. This is what causes spasticity.
So, what can you do to fix it?
The first solution we’ll share is an effective short-term treatment for spasticity. After that, we’ll move onto a better long-term treatment.
Why Botox Is Only a Temporary Spasticity Treatment
One way to reduce spasticity after neurological injury is by using “nerve block” drugs like Botox.
Botox blocks the release of chemicals that signal your muscles to tighten, which makes your muscles relax.
This is a clinically tested treatment for spasticity. Most patients see significant relief from these injections.
However, without getting your brain on board, Botox merely addresses the symptom of spasticity, not the real problem.
This means that once the Botox wears away, the problem will come back.
So how can you reduce spasticity long-term?
This is where neuroplasticity and therapeutic spasticity treatment exercises come into play.
Why Stretching Exercises Are the Best Spasticity Treatment
The key to reversing spasticity permanently is by rewiring the brain through neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity helps dedicate more brain and nerve cells to controlling your affected limbs.
In order for this rewiring to occur, you have to repeat effective rehab exercises over and over and over. The more you practice spasticity treatment exercises, the more your spasticity will subside.
It’s like paving new pathways in the brain. The more you reinforce those new pathways, the more your brain-muscle communication improves, and your spasticity lessens as a result!
We will discuss the various types of spasticity exercise next.
Types of Exercise to Treat Spasticity
Some spasticity is minor (muscle tension with movement still available through the range of motion) while other spasticity is severe (paralysis with inability to move through the range of motion due to the severe tightness).
Different levels of spasticity require different types of exercise.
Below you will find 4 ways to treat spasticity with exercise. After, you’ll discover 3 more tips for spasticity treatment.
1. Range of Motion Exercise
When you first start to treat spasticity, it’s likely that your muscles will be very stiff. To help loosen them up, start with range of motion stretching exercises like this wrist stretch:
You want to gently stretch through the range of motion of the spastic muscle, as long as there is no pain. You can find more therapeutic spasticity treatment exercises like this in our Range of Motion Exercises Guide.
2. Active Spasticity Treatment Exercises
If you have some movement in the spastic muscles, then active rehabilitation exercise will be your ticket to success.
However, you want to be careful not to over-exercise (over-contract) the already tight muscles. To decide which exercises are right for your particular spasticity problem, talk with your physical or occupational therapist.
You want to make sure you exercise the opposing muscles of the muscle(s) that is contracted. For example, if your biceps muscles is very tight (which will cause your elbow to flex/bend inward), you will want to focus on exercises that promote straightening your elbow (because during this movement, your bicep should relax and lengthen).
A great spasticity exercise for legs is knee extensions:
Again, the more reps you do, the more your brain will rewire itself and reduce your spasticity.
You’ll recover quickly this way because you’re getting the brain on board – and that addresses the root problem.
3. Combining Exercise with Electrical Stimulation
Another great way to boost your results from your spasticity treatment exercises is by combining it with electrical stimulation.
This involves using an e-stim machine to apply electric current to your affected muscles. This helps “wake up” your brain through the stimulation.
Most neurological injuries (like stroke, TBI, and SCI) respond to electrical stimulation — and these results are amplified when e-stim is combined with therapeutic exercise. Have a therapist guide you on how to perform electrical stimulation safely.
4. Weight-bearing Exercise
If you are able to get your arm or leg (where the spasticity is) in a straightened position, performing weight-bearing exercises is an excellent treatment for spasticity.
If your arm is affected, this would involve putting weight through that affected arm (possibly on a countertop), which will promote the lengthening/stretching of the spastic muscles and provide good feedback to the brain.
Weight-bearing through the leg simply involve standing and/or walking (if it is safe for you to do so).
Weight-bearing is a technique commonly used in physical and occupational therapy sessions, so ask your therapists for ways you can safely do this on your own at home as well.
How to Treat Spasticity in Paralyzed Muscles
Sometimes muscles become so stiff with spasticity that you develop contractures and movement across the joint becomes impossible.
The following methods can help reduce spasticity in paralyzed muscles:
5. Passive Exercise
When you can’t move your muscles due to increased muscle tone or spasticity, you can begin the rewiring process through passive exercise.
This simply means assisting your affected muscles through each movement and providing a gentle stretch – either with the help of a caregiver or by using your non-affected side.
Although you aren’t “doing it yourself,” passive movement still helps activate neuroplasticity. As you begin to regain movement, you can graduate to active exercises.
6. Mirror Therapy Exercises
Mirror therapy is a special form of therapy that involves “tricking” your brain into believing that you’re moving your affected hand by using a tabletop mirror and moving your unaffected hand.
Although you logically know better, this trick helps activate neuroplasticity and introduce movement into your affected, spastic hand!
Mirror therapy is mostly useful for upper extremities like hand and arm rehab.
7. Mental Practice
Lastly, mental practice is a great way to boost neuroplasticity by simply visualizing yourself moving your spastic muscles.
By practicing your spasticity treatment exercises in your mind through visualization, you actually help activate neuroplasticity.
Imagine boosting your results while lying in bed! Don’t skip this step – it’s easy and clinically proven to help.
Spasticity as a Surprising Sign of Recovery
You are now aware that spasticity is caused by miscommunication between your brain and your muscle.
Hopefully this brings you hope that your spasticity is treatable because it means that your muscles are still trying to communicate with your brain!
Your body hasn’t given up, and neither should you.
There are tons of success stories of neurological injury patients who regained more mobility than doctors predicted. Never give up hope.
Even if you have no movement in your spastic muscles, keep focusing on activating neuroplasticity with high repetition.
Eventually, your spasticity should start to improve – for good!