Spasticity/Muscle Tightness and Tone Management Program

A child experiencing problems with significant muscle tightness from spasticity can be overwhelming. You want to understand what's happening, what caused the problem, and most importantly, what can be done about it.

At Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, we understand your concerns. Our multidisciplinary team of pediatric specialists is highly trained and experienced in the management of spasticity and the associated issues with muscle tightness and tone. To achieve the best possible outcomes for spasticity and muscle tightness, a team approach is necessary. Our team includes a variety of specialists, including:

  • Physiatrists (physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists)
  • Neurosurgeons
  • Orthopedic surgeons
  • Physical therapists
  • Occupational therapists

We are committed to making your child's health the best it can possibly be. We do that by setting goals for specific outcomes and developing a personalized plan to achieve those goals.

We take a comprehensive approach to treatment, offering the full spectrum of treatment options, from oral medications to sophisticated surgical procedures. We're also committed to equipping you and other caregivers to provide your child with the very best of care at home.

Because your child is not a little adult, his or her healthcare needs are different. With our strictly pediatric focus, we have the resources and expertise to provide your child with personalized care that's the perfect fit.

What is muscle tone?

You may think of muscle tone as how strong and defined a muscle is. But tone actually refers to the normal state of tension in a muscle, even when it is relaxed. When that tension is exaggerated, the disorder known as spasticity may result. Muscle tone sets the background for voluntary movement, which is why improving muscle tone can help your child make functional gains towards independence.

What is spasticity/muscle tightness?

Spasticity comes from a Greek word meaning drawing or pulling, and is characterized by an abnormal increase in muscle tone or stiffness of muscle. With spasticity, your child's muscles stiffen and work against each other.

Normally, a body joint opens or closes because the muscle on one side of the joint tightens while its opposing muscle relaxes. Spasticity causes both muscles to tighten, making it difficult or impossible to control movements. The condition can cause problems with balance, walking, and other physical activities, and often interferes with the routine of everyday life.

Muscle tightness and problems with tone often appear with many types of neurologic injuries and illnesses, but can also be present at birth and sometimes develop for no known reason.

Spasticity/muscle tightness and tone management

Unusual tightness in your child's muscles, sometimes caused by spasticity, can interfere with his or her ability to eat, talk and move. While there is usually no cure for the cause of the spasticity, but there are many treatment and management options that can offer relief and are proven ways to cope.

Evaluation & diagnosis

Our Center for Motion Analysis Gait Lab is a great tool that can be used to help your child improve movement. We have one of the few pediatric electromagnetic gait labs in the region. In the gait lab, we track movement with a computer using sensors attached to your child's body. The computer then creates a 3D model that shows us how your child moves. That allows us to identify movements that need attention and correction.

Comprehensive treatment options

Early diagnosis at any age is important. Contact us with any concerns about your child as soon as they appear.

Children's offers your child a complete range of effective medical, surgical, and rehabilitative treatments tailored to your child's needs and abilities, including: 

  • Oral medications
  • Botulinum toxin intramuscular injections
  • Phenol/alcohol motor nerve blocks
  • Oral or injectable baclofen
  • Intrathecal baclofen (using a device called a baclofen pump)
  • Tendon transfers/lengthenings
  • Selective dorsal rhizotomy (selectively cutting  problematic nerve roots in the spinal canal)
  • Rehabilitation treatments
  • Inhibitory/serial casting
  • Orthoses or splinting
  • Weight bearing
  • Electrical stimulation (FES, NMES)
  • Aquatic therapy
  • Constraint induced movement therapy
  • Partial weight support treadmill training

Because we treat your child as a whole person, depending on the underlying disorder we often provide neuropsychological testing. If necessary, we use that information to identify your child's learning strengths and weaknesses, create an individualized education plan, and guide speech therapy.

We work hard to coordinate your child's treatment plan to avoid separate procedures and accommodate you. And because we understand the demands of your life and location, we are happy to work with physical and occupational therapists near you, when possible.