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The Difference Between Spasticity & Rigidity

December 20, 2016

Both spasticity and rigidity describe conditions in which one finds difficulty performing muscular motions, the difference between them arises in how such difficulty is brought about. Both describe hypertonic states affecting an individual’s muscles, joints, and limbs, but a differentiation between the two must be acquired to best achieve a proper diagnosis.

Spasticity is only felt when one’s joint or muscle moves in a specific direction. It is velocity-dependent, meaning that the faster one moves or straightens a joint, the more resistant or tight the muscle will feel. Spasticity can affect all people differently. Some wil
l feel chronic, persistent pain and numbness, while some will feel mild pain and numbness occasionally.
Rigidity is different in that it is felt no matter what direction the joint happens to be moving and at any speed. Muscles that have rigidity feel heavy and like “a lead pipe” when they are moved passively.


Characteristics of Spasticity

  • “Clasp-like Feeling”- The muscle will slightly resist before folding in like a “clasp”
  • Stroking Effect- One may experience relief from episodes of spasticity by stroking the affected muscle’s surface.
  • Distribution- The sensation of spasticity is distributed differentially, often affecting antigravity muscles.

Treating Spasticity

Intrathecal Pump- What the intrathecal pump does is deliver a small dose of medication directly into the spinal column of patients to alleviate pain from spasticity. The pump, which is approximately around the same size as a hockey puck, is surgically implanted into the patient’s right or left lower abdomen. A catheter is then attached to the pump and tunneled around the side in order to reach the spinal column. The entire pump system is not physically visible by looking at the skin as it is completely implanted in the body. Basic Home Infusion specializes in managing intrathecal pumps in patients’ homes in order to help relieve sever spasticity and chronic pain.

Characteristics of Rigidity

  • Velocity-Independent- The amount of resistance does not vary depending on the velocity of movement.

Treating Rigidity

Warm Compression- Apply a warm compress or heating pad to the affected muscle to help relax rigid muscles. Gently stretch your stiff muscle to help relax it. Avoid strenuous activity that may trigger the muscle to become rigid again. Encourage the muscles to relax using massage, yoga, or tai chi.