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Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2010 Sep;46(3):411-21.

Five-step clinical assessment in spastic paresis.

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  • 1Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine Service, Unit of Neurore-education, Henri Mondor University Hospital, Créteil, France.


Among the three main factors of motor impairment that emerge in chronological order following a lesion to central motor pathways, the last two antagonize movement: 1) stretch-sensitive paresis, a reduction of agonist motor unit recruitment upon voluntary command, worsened by antagonist stretch; 2) soft tissue contracture, and 3) muscle overactivity. Types of muscle overactivity include 1) spasticity, an increase in the velocity-dependent response to muscle stretch, measured at rest; 2) spastic dystonia, i.e., chronic tonic muscle activity at rest, sensitive to stretch of the dystonic muscle and 3) spastic co-contraction, an inappropriate degree of antagonistic contraction during voluntary agonist command, sensitive to stretch of the co-contracting muscle. A five-step clinical assessment may closely parallel this phenomenology, in which the first four steps aim at quantifying the antagonistic potential of each muscle group. Step-1 measures passive range of motion, i.e., the angle of arrest upon slow stretch of the muscle group assessed (minimizing spastic dystonia), which provides insight on soft tissue length and extensibility. Step-2 measures the angle of catch or clonus upon fast passive stretch of the muscle group assessed, which provides insight on stretch reflex excitability. Step-3 measures the range of active motion against the muscle group assessed, a net result of agonist recruitment minus the combined resistance from passive soft tissue stiffness and spastic co-contraction in the muscle group assessed. Step-4 measures the maximal frequency of rapid alternating movements along the maximal active range of motion, evaluating Step-3 performance repeatability. Step-5 evaluates active function, using for example a walking test (10 m or 2 min) for lower limb and the Modified Frenchay Scale for upper limb assessment, and perceived function through patient global subjective assessment.

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