What Is Hypertonicity?

21 August 2017

If movement of the wrist is involuntary, such as when caused by muscle spasm, it is possible that the development of hypertonia has occurred. This results in a condition known as hypertonicity, which can affect muscles at different points throughout the body. 

Hypertonicity can vary in severity, and may surface as a result of injury or an underlying condition. By becoming more aware of the causes and symptoms of hypertonicity, it will be possible to consider the different approaches to treating the condition. To ease this understanding, we have compiled this short guide to what hypertonicity is, what causes it, and how it can be treated.

What Is Hypertonicity?

Hypertonicity is the term used to describe the effects of hypertonia, which is caused by upper motor neuron lesions. Hypertonicity occurs when there is an increase in muscle tone to an abnormal rigidity. The reverse of this, where muscles become too weak, is known as hypotonia.

This sudden rise in tension as the muscle involuntarily contracts causes an immediate flexion or extension to the affected joint. In the case of wrist hypertonicity, this appears as a muscle spasm, causing the hand and wrist to move unexpectedly as if jolting as a result of a shock.

Who Can Develop Hypertonicity?

Hypertonicity is often a symptom of such conditions as cerebral palsy, where the joints provide jerking movements as a result of stiff muscles. Injury to the spinal cord can also cause hypertonicity to manifest, as spinal cord damage can result in upper motor neuron lesions, which in turn signals hypertonicity as a result of an exaggerated reflex.

Anybody who suffers a stroke is also susceptible to hypertonicity, particularly in the arms, as a result of the muscles suddenly becoming and remaining tight. Hypertonicity can also occur over time, such as when athletes train the same muscles repeatedly; in such cases, hypertonicity can become the default position for the muscles as they accept the repeated contraction actions as their new norm. While treatment can take place for both sudden and gradual cases of hypertonicity, each condition will respond differently to various treatments, and so it is imperative that the right approach is taken.

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How Can I Treat Hypertonicity?

The required treatment(s) for hypertonicity of the wrist will depend on both the severity of the condition and the preferences of the individual. While it is possible to overcome certain cases of hypertonicity, more severe hypertonia will best be controlled and managed with ongoing treatment and support.

Stretching the Joints

By slowly stretching the joints, a healthier joint range of motion may be encouraged. Stretching can be performed on children and infants by a clinician, helping to train the muscles from a young age where hypertonicity is present from birth. Stretching as part of physiotherapy can also help to reduce motor neuron excitability, which in turn may improve control of muscle contractions.

Massaging the Muscles

A typically more relaxing approach to reducing the effects of hypertonia is to massage the muscles. Massages such as deep tissue massage can help to treat hypertonic muscles, encouraging them to relax and refrain from tensing up in contraction. Although massaging the muscles does not generally restore the muscles to their previous state before hypertonia, it can help to ease the discomfort associated with hypertonicity while other treatment occurs.

Supporting the Wrist

Wearing a wrist support is a non-invasive approach to providing both control of and compression for a hypertonic wrist. With a range of suitable wrist supports available, it is possible to support varying degrees of hypertonicity, depending on individual requirements and preferences.


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