Intrathecal and Oral Baclofen Use in Adults With Spinal Cord Injury: A Systematic Review of Efficacy in Spasticity Reduction, Functional Changes, Dosing, and Adverse Events



      To examine the efficacy, dosing, and safety profiles of intrathecal and oral baclofen in treating spasticity after spinal cord injury (SCI).

      Data Sources

      PubMed and Cochrane Databases were searched from 1970-2018 with keywords baclofen, spinal cord injury, and efficacy.

      Study Selection

      The database search yielded 588 sources and 10 additional relevant publications. After removal of duplicates, 398 publications were screened.

      Data Extraction

      Data were extracted using the following population, intervention, comparator, outcomes, and study designs criteria: studies including adult patients with SCI with spasticity; the intervention could be oral or intrathecal administration of baclofen; selection was inclusive for control groups, surgical management, rehabilitation, and alternative pharmaceutical agents; outcomes were efficacy, dosing, and adverse events. Randomized controlled trials, observational studies, and case reports were included. Meta-analyses and systematic reviews were excluded.

      Data Synthesis

      A total of 98 studies were included with 1943 patients. Only 4 randomized, double-blinded, and placebo-controlled trials were reported. Thirty-nine studies examined changes in the Modified Ashworth Scale (MAS; 34 studies) and Penn Spasm scores (Penn Spasm Frequency; 19 studies), with average reductions of 1.7±1.3 and 1.6±1.4 in individuals with SCI, respectively. Of these data, a total of 6 of the 34 studies (MAS) and 2 of the 19 studies (Penn Spasm Frequency) analyzed oral baclofen. Forty-three studies addressed adverse events with muscle weakness and fatigue frequently reported.


      Baclofen is the most commonly-prescribed antispasmodic after SCI. Surprisingly, there remains a significant lack of large, placebo-controlled, double-blinded clinical trials, with most efficacy data arising from small studies examining treatment across different etiologies. In the studies reviewed, baclofen effectively improved spasticity outcome measures, with increased efficacy through intrathecal administration. Few studies assessed how reduced neural excitability affected residual motor function and activities of daily living. A host of adverse events were reported that may negatively affect quality of life. Comparative randomized controlled trials of baclofen and alternative treatments are warranted because these have demonstrated promise in relieving spasticity with reduced adverse events and without negatively affecting residual motor function.


      List of abbreviations:

      ADL (activities of daily living), AIS (American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale), GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), MAS (Modified Ashworth Scale), mMRC (modified Medical Research Council), SCI (spinal cord injury)
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