What Causes Spastic Paralysis?

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  • Written By: Laura M. Sands
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 07 September 2019
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Spastic paralysis is caused by nerve injury or a nerve disease affecting the central nervous system. As a result, individuals experience muscle stiffness, muscle spasms and exaggerated, uncontrollable reflex movements. Spastic paralysis is often caused by distinct conditions such as spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, cerebral amyloid angiopathy, hereditary spastic paraplegia or encephalitis.

Spinal cord injuries are those that result in a fractured or severed spine or displaced vertebrae. These injuries impact neurological functioning by destroying nerve cells assigned to communicate with the brain. Individuals affected by a spinal cord injury commonly experience spastic movements and paralysis. For some people, such an injury is reversible, but for many it is not.

Spastic paralysis is one of many symptoms present in people who have cerebral palsy. This particular disease is caused by a brain disorder or may be caused by brain injury. Often, people are born with this condition and have exhibited symptoms of muscle stiffness and spasms their entire lives. Other cases occur as the direct result of an early brain injury, which interrupted neurological development within the first two years of a child’s life.


Inflammatory diseases, such as encephalitis, may also cause spastic paralysis. Encephalitis is characterized by an inflammation of sensitive brain tissue. As a result of this inflammation, optimal brain functioning is interrupted and a group of symptoms become evident. A few of these symptoms include seizures, speech deficits, hallucinations, severe headaches, impaired motor functioning and spastic paralysis. Though there are a variety of circumstances that lead to inflammatory diseases, one of the primary causes of encephalitis is a viral infection.

Two distinct types of encephalitis, which include symptoms of spastic paralysis, are Japanese encephalitis and St. Louis encephalitis. Often spread via mosquito bites, as many as 50,000 cases of Japanese encephalitis are reported in Asia each year. In the United States, a similar form of the virus is also often reported. Both may occur in very mild forms, which do not present any symptoms. More severe cases of each, however, also trigger spastic movements.

A very rare disorder, known as cerebral amyloid angiopathy, also causes spastic paralysis. This particular condition is distinguished by waxy protein deposits that gather in the blood vessels of the brain. Some people inherit this condition as a genetic disorder, while others are afflicted by cerebral amyloid angiopathy due to environmental conditions.

Hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP), also known as familial spastic paralysis, is another disorder passed to individuals genetically. As its name denotes, spastic symptoms help define this condition. Some people are completely disabled by HSP, while some are only mildly affected and respond well to treatments aimed at reducing symptoms and building strength.


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