This study followed a cohort of 103 patients at median 6 days, 6 and 16 weeks after stroke and recorded muscle tone, pain, paresis, Barthel Index and quality of life score (EQ-5D) to identify risk-factors for development of spasticity. 24.5% of stroke victims developed an increase of muscle tone within 2 weeks after stroke. Patients with spasticity had significantly higher incidences of pain and nursing home placement and lower Barthel and EQ-5D scores than patients with normal muscle tone. Early predictive factors for presence of severe spasticity [modified Ashworth scale score (MAS) >or=3] at final follow-up were moderate increase in muscle tone at baseline and/or first follow-up (MAS = 2), low Barthel Index at baseline, hemispasticity, involvement of more than two joints at first follow-up, and paresis at any assessment point. The study helps to identify patients at highest risk for permanent and severe spasticity, and advocates for early treatment in this group.