Stiff-person Syndrome(SPS): what it is and how to relieve symptoms

Nowadays, more and more people present unknown diseases such as SPS Stiff-person Syndrome. In the last few days, you probably heard about this rare condition when Celine Dion announced that this is the reason why she has been silent and had to cancel all her tours. Autoimmune diseases are growing fast in the last 20 years, right now there are more than 160 recognised autoimmune conditions. Let’s understand first what our immune system does and why we get these conditions, and then, we will move to what SPS is and the possible treatments available to relieve its symptoms.

What is an autoimmune disease?

Your immune system guards your body against Foreign invaders (bacteria, germs and viruses). So, when it detects an  invader has entered into your body, it sends out an army of fighter cells to attack them. However, sometimes the immune system doesn’t work as it should and it doesn’t recognize foreign cells from your body’s own cells; as a result it attacks your own healthy cells. This is what we know as an autoimmune disease.

What is Stiff-person syndrome SPS?

Stiff-person syndrome is a progressive and rare neurological disorder. Its main symptoms are muscle stiffness and painful muscle spasms.

SPS affects twice as many women as men. And the severity varies from person to person.

What causes Stiff-person syndrome?

Specialists don’t know the cause of Stiff-Person Syndrome. However, recent research indicates that it is the result of an autoimmune response when something goes wrong in your brain and spinal cord. It is frequently associated with other autoimmune diseases such as type-I diabetes, thyroiditis, vitiligo, and pernicious anemia.

What are the symptoms of Stiff-Person Syndrome?

The most common symptoms are:

  1. Muscle stiffness (rigidity, it can fluctuate, sometimes goes bad and then improves). This could happen in:
  • trunk, 
  • arms, 
  • lower back, 
  • neck, 
  • shoulders, 
  • hips,
  • face,
  • or legs.

Stiffness in legs led to an awkward way of walking and in the back can produce a curvature of the spine.

  1. Painful muscle spasms
  • They can be at random or be triggered by external factors like noise.
  • Spasms can be in one part or in the entire body.
  • These can last several minutes or even hours. 
  1. High sensibility to:
  •  loud noises, 
  • touch 
  • stress
  • cold weather 
  • (all can be triggers of the spams).
  1. Stress and anxiety (caused by the other symptoms)

These symptoms usually develop over a period of time (weeks or months) and may remain stable for many years or slowly get worse (each case is different).

Stiff- person Syndrome Timeline 

Patients may:

  • Develop abnormal curvature in the upper spine (Kyphosis) or in the lower spine (hyperlordosis). 
  • Difficulty walking, in extreme cases, people may be too disabled to walk or move. 
  • Have frequent falls because they do not have the normal reflexes to catch themselves ( it can lead to serious injuries). 
  • Be afraid to go outside due to the triggers, like the street noises, or because they are afraid to fall.

How is Stiff-Person Syndrome diagnosed?

For many years SPS was misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, psychosomatic illness, anxiety or phobia. But nowadays, there is  a blood test (Antibody titer) that measures the level of Glutamic Acid Decarboxylase (GAD) antibodies.

People with SPS have high levels of GAD antibodies, up to 10 times above normal. Antibody titers are key for the diagnosis of SPS. This test measures the presence and amount of GAD antibodies in blood. People with diabetes also have GAD titers, however, in SPS patients the titers are extremely high. These antibodies can also be present in the spinal fluid.

How can I relieve symptoms of Stiff Person Syndrome?

First of all, follow all your doctor’s recommendations, and if you are under medication never skip a take. In addition to your medical treatment you can relieve symptoms (muscle spasms, stiffness, stress and anxiety) from SPS using hands on treatments like:

  • Physiotherapy to improve your mobility.
  • Massage therapy to  reduce stress and anxiety by relaxing your muscles, it will improve your general wellbeing.
  • Myofascial release to improve your flexibility.
  • Heat therapy to relax tensioned muscles.
  • Acupuncture releases muscle tension, rigidity and spasms.
  • Yoga improves flexibility and reduces pain and stress.
  • Meditation reduces pain, stress and anxiety.
  • Aqua therapy relaxes your muscles.
  • Lymphatic drainage helps to boost your immune system, reduce stress levels and relaxes muscles. 
  • Diet is so important to build up your immune system and help to reduce cramps. 

A final word…

Please, take into account that Stiff Person Syndrome has no cure, but proper medical and hands on treatment can relieve your symptoms and give you a better quality of life. If you need more information, advice or hands on treatment for this condition please contact us. We are always happy to help! You can find us in Mill Hill Broadway and Islington. If you like this blog or know someone who needs this info, please share it!


Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Paul Lambkin says:

    Thank you for this extremely useful information. I am not a pessimistic infact quite the opposite, but after having a fall and suffered a slight brain damage, some 4 and a half years ago, l have wondered why l have not been able to be subtle. It’s as if my back, shoulders etc could do with an oil can. Cramp and leg spasms along with very cold legs, is now starting to make sense. Thank you again.

    • Hi Paul, Glad to hear that this information was useful for you. We always recommend doing further examination and to go for a second opinion just to make sure your condition is fully diagnosed and you receive the right treatment. Remember some diseases or injuries could present similar symptoms and could be misdiagnosed.

      Kind regards,
      Perea Clinic Team

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