A New Definition of Poststroke Spasticity and the Interference of Spasticity With Motor Recovery From Acute to Chronic Stages

Sheng Li*, Gerard E. Francisco, W. Zev Rymer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The relationship of poststroke spasticity and motor recovery can be confusing. “True” motor recovery refers to return of motor behaviors to prestroke state with the same end-effectors and temporo-spatial pattern. This requires neural recovery and repair, and presumably occurs mainly in the acute and subacute stages. However, according to the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health, motor recovery after stroke is also defined as “improvement in performance of functional tasks,” i.e., functional recovery, which is mainly mediated by compensatory mechanisms. Therefore, stroke survivors can execute motor tasks in spite of disordered motor control and the presence of spasticity. Spasticity interferes with execution of normal motor behaviors (“true” motor recovery), throughout the evolution of stroke from acute to chronic stages. Spasticity reduction does not affect functional recovery in the acute and subacute stages; however, appropriate management of spasticity could lead to improvement of motor function, that is, functional recovery, during the chronic stage of stroke. We assert that spasticity results from upregulation of medial cortico-reticulo-spinal pathways that are disinhibited due to damage of the motor cortex or corticobulbar pathways. Spasticity emerges as a manifestation of maladaptive plasticity in the early stages of recovery and can persist into the chronic stage. It coexists and shares similar pathophysiological processes with related motor impairments, such as abnormal force control, muscle coactivation and motor synergies, and diffuse interlimb muscle activation. Accordingly, we propose a new definition of spasticity to better account for its pathophysiology and the complex nuances of different definitions of motor recovery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)601-610
Number of pages10
JournalNeurorehabilitation and Neural Repair
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • ICF
  • motor recovery
  • rehabilitation
  • spasticity
  • stroke

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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