Contemporary pharmacologic treatments for spasticity of the upper limb after stroke: a systematic review

Clin Ther. 2010 Dec;32(14):2282-303. doi: 10.1016/j.clinthera.2011.01.005.


Background: Muscle spasticity after stroke may be painful and severe and may restrict the patient's ability to perform routine daily tasks, particularly when the affected muscles are in the upper limbs. Treatments targeted at reducing this spasticity have evolved over time.

Objective: This was a systematic review of recent studies focusing on contemporary pharmacologic therapies for upper limb spasticity after stroke.

Methods: MEDLINE, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register were searched for clinical trials published in English from January 1995 to July 2010 using search terms that included spasticity, stroke, hemiplegia, phenol, baclofen, tizanidine, dantrolene, benzodiazepine, and botulinum toxin. The level of evidence of the identified publications was assessed using the Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine criteria.

Results: A total of 113 potentially relevant articles were identified by the search; of these, 54 studies were included in the review (23 randomized controlled trials [RCTs] and 31 open-label, nonrandomized, or observational studies). Of these, 51 involved treatment with botulinum toxin (BTX). All studies assessed spasticity; some also assessed additional outcomes, such as pain, disability, and functional status. Thirty-eight clinical trials reported a significant reduction in spasticity with BTX, either compared with baseline or with placebo (P < 0.05). A head-to-head comparison found a significant reduction in spasticity with BTX injections compared with oral tizanidine (TZD) (P < 0.001). Two studies of intrathecal baclofen (ITB) reported significant reductions in upper limb spasticity after 12 months of treatment, and 1 study of tizanidine reported significant reductions in upper limb spasticity after 16 weeks of treatment (all, P < 0.001). General or local weakness, injection-site pain, and fatigue were the most frequently reported adverse events with BTX type A, and dry mouth was the most frequently reported adverse event with BTX type B. No serious or life-threatening adverse events were reported in any trial of BTX.

Conclusions: The 54 studies included in this systematic review of treatments for upper limb spasticity after stroke measured multiple outcomes using a variety of instruments. Fifty-one studies focused on treatment with a BTX formulation. BTX appeared to be an effective and well-tolerated focal treatment for reducing tonicity in patients with upper limb spasticity after stroke, supporting current guideline recommendations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Botulinum Toxins / administration & dosage
  • Botulinum Toxins / therapeutic use*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Muscle Spasticity / drug therapy*
  • Muscle Spasticity / etiology
  • Muscle Spasticity / physiopathology
  • Parasympatholytics / administration & dosage
  • Parasympatholytics / therapeutic use*
  • Stroke / complications*
  • Stroke / physiopathology
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Upper Extremity / physiopathology*


  • Parasympatholytics
  • Botulinum Toxins