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Tone vs. Spasticity Part 1: What is it?

By Imago Rehab, as featured on LinkedIn
2 minutes

Tone? Spasticity? What do all of these words mean and how does this relate to me after a stroke? After having a stroke, you have countless words and phrases tossed at you and a lot of times people don’t take the time to explain what they mean. It’s easy to get lost in the alphabet soup of terminology after a major health event like a stroke. Many people, even doctors and clinicians, use these terms interchangeably. However, they are not exactly the same. So, here is how we define these terms, per a fact sheet from 2019 by the American Heart Association:

Tone: The natural tension, or contraction, in a muscle that resists stretching.

Spasticity: An abnormal increase in muscle tone where muscle contractions become more intense, involving one muscle or a muscle group.


The Tone Spectrum

Having “high tone” or “hypertonicity” means that your muscles are really tight AT REST, so they rest in a position where it looks like your muscles are contracting. “Low tone” or “hypotonicity” is when your affected limb appears “floppy” also referred to as “flaccid.” This means the muscles aren’t over-firing, but maybe not even firing at all, making your limb unable to move actively. For both ends of the tone spectrum, there is a disruption in how the brain perceives your affected limb and how it connects to make muscles fire – either too much or not at all.

So What is “Spasticity” then?

Spasticity is VELOCITY-DEPENDENT. This means that spasticity occurs during movement of the affected limb. Oftentimes after a stroke, someone will attempt to move their affected arm, and the quicker they move, the more difficulty they have. Many people explain the feeling like moving through molasses or quicksand. Spasticity typically occurs in people that present with HYPERtonicity after a stroke because there is already way too much input coming from the brain to that limb, at rest. Another way to think of the difference between tone and spasticity is that tone is more passive and spasticity is more active. Everyone’s muscles lie somewhere on that tone spectrum, but sometimes people experience health events or are born with conditions that alter that tone.


Great, so what do I do about this tone and spasticity?

Check out our Part 2 blog post that digs deeper into what you can do to manage these frustrating symptoms.

If you’re looking for more ways to relax and manage that your spasticity, join our Community Groups. We meet monthly and talk about ways to manage stress, relax, and talk with friends. Email [email protected] or call 617-671-0789 for more information.

Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only and none of the content in this post is meant to be substituted for medical advice from a doctor. Speak to a doctor or your therapist for more information about how this applies to you.



American Heart Association (2019). Let’s talk about: Spasticity after stroke. Recovery. https://www.stroke.org/-/media/stroke-files/lets-talk-about-stroke/life-after-stroke/ltas_spasticity_english_0419.pdf

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