Well-Being Prevention & Cures

Living with stiff-person syndrome: ‘It feels like I’m walking on broken glass,’ Ohio woman says

"I felt really bad for her," Maureen Materna said upon hearing of Celine Dion's own diagnosis.

Story at a glance


  • Maureen Materna, 75, of Rocky River, Ohio has been dealing with stiff-person syndrome for 11 years.

  • The neurological disorder can cause chronic pain, muscle spasms and heightened sensitivity to noise, among other symptoms.

  •  There is no cure for the disease, only treatments.

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio (WJW) – Singer Celine Dion’s medical diagnosis is shedding light on a condition known as stiff-person syndrome, a neurological disorder that can cause chronic pain, muscle spasms and heightened sensitivity to noise, among other symptoms.

“I felt really bad for her. She is going to have a long, tough time. Your life will never be the same,” said 75-year-old Maureen Materna, of Rocky River, Ohio.

Materna has been dealing with stiff-person syndrome for 11 years.

“Even though my feet look completely normal, it feels like I’m walking on broken glass,” said Materna.

It took Materna two years and 20 different doctors before she met with a neurologist with the Cleveland Clinic.

“I listed all my symptoms and right away he said, ‘You have stiff-person syndrome,'” Materna remembers.

Dr. Robert Wilson said this rare disease affects about one in a million people.

“Maureen is a warrior. These people have pain. Severe stabbing, ripping, torturous pain,” said Wilson.

There is currently no cure for stiff-person syndrome — only treatment.

“Their muscles are locked beyond their control, so there are medicines they can use like muscle relaxers and autoimmune treatments,” said Wilson.

As for Maureen, she has learned to live with this debilitating disease. She’s hopeful that Dion’s diagnosis will help shed light on it, too.