The relation between Ashworth scores and neuromechanical measurements of spasticity following stroke

J Neuroeng Rehabil. 2008 Jul 15:5:18. doi: 10.1186/1743-0003-5-18.


Background: Spasticity is a common impairment that follows stroke, and it results typically in functional loss. For this reason, accurate quantification of spasticity has both diagnostic and therapeutic significance. The most widely used clinical assessment of spasticity is the modified Ashworth scale (MAS), an ordinal scale, but its validity, reliability and sensitivity have often been challenged. The present study addresses this deficit by examining whether quantitative measures of neural and muscular components of spasticity are valid, and whether they are strongly correlated with the MAS.

Methods: We applied abrupt small amplitude joint stretches and Pseudorandom Binary Sequence (PRBS) perturbations to both paretic and non-paretic elbow and ankle joints of stroke survivors. Using advanced system identification techniques, we quantified the dynamic stiffness of these joints, and separated its muscular (intrinsic) and reflex components. The correlations between these quantitative measures and the MAS were investigated.

Results: We showed that our system identification technique is valid in characterizing the intrinsic and reflex stiffness and predicting the overall net torque. Conversely, our results reveal that there is no significant correlation between muscular and reflex torque/stiffness and the MAS magnitude. We also demonstrate that the slope and intercept of reflex and intrinsic stiffnesses plotted against the joint angle are not correlated with the MAS.

Conclusion: Lack of significant correlation between our quantitative measures of stroke effects on spastic joints and the clinical assessment of muscle tone, as reflected in the MAS suggests that the MAS does not provide reliable information about the origins of the torque change associated with spasticity, or about its contributing components.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Arm
  • Biomechanical Phenomena / methods*
  • Diagnosis, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Diagnostic Techniques, Neurological*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Spasticity / diagnosis*
  • Muscle Spasticity / etiology
  • Muscle Spasticity / physiopathology*
  • Reflex
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Severity of Illness Index*
  • Stroke / complications
  • Stroke / diagnosis*
  • Stroke / physiopathology*