Theoretical and methodological considerations in the measurement of spasticity

Disabil Rehabil. 2005 Jan;27(1-2):69-80. doi: 10.1080/09638280400014592.


Purpose: To discuss the measurement of spasticity in the clinical and research environments, make recommendations based on the SPASM reviews of biomechanical, neurophysiological and clinical methods of measuring spasticity and indicate future developments of measurement tools.

Method: Using the results of the systematic reviews of the biomechanical, neurophysiological and clinical approaches, methods were evaluated across three dimensions: (1) validity, reliability and sensitivity to change; (2) practical quality such as ease of use and (3) qualities specific to the measurement of spasticity, for example ability to be applied to different muscle groups. Methods were considered in terms of applicability to research and clinical applications.

Results: A hierarchy of measurement approaches was identified from highly controlled and more objective (but unrelated to function) to ecologically valid, but less objective and subject to contamination from other variables. The lack of a precise definition of spasticity may account for the problem of developing a valid, reliable and sensitive method of measurement. The reviews have identified that some tests measure spasticity per se, some phenomena associated with spasticity or consequential to it and others the effect of spasticity on activity and participation and independence.

Conclusions: Methods appropriate for use in research, particularly into the mechanism of spasticity did not satisfy the needs of the clinician and the need for an objective but clinically applicable tool was identified. A clinical assessment may need to generate more than one 'value' and should include evaluation of other components of the upper motor neurone syndrome. There is therefore a need for standardized protocols for 'best practice' in application of spasticity measurement tools and scales.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electromyography / instrumentation
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Humans
  • Muscle Spasticity / diagnosis*
  • Muscle Spasticity / physiopathology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Neurophysiology / instrumentation
  • Neurophysiology / methods*
  • Posture / physiology
  • Psychometrics
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology
  • Reflex, Stretch / physiology