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MS Hug: How to Ease the Pain

If you’ve been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) -- an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system -- you might have experienced a band of pain in your torso area. It’s often called the “MS hug.”

What you’re feeling

As with most MS symptoms, the sensation is different for each person. Pain may be felt under your rib cage, or show up anywhere between your neck and waistline. The feeling can be dull and achy, sharp, or burning. It can last a few seconds to a few hours, and in rare cases, a few days. Some people describe a slight tingling or tickling vibration, while others describe a crippling pressure below the rib cage that may make breathing uncomfortable. Most commonly, the pain is compared to wearing a girdle around the middle of your body. For that reason, this symptom may also be nicknamed the “MS girdle” or “girdle-band” sensation.

What’s really going on?

In between each of your ribs are small muscles that hold your rib cage together and help it expand when moving, bending, or breathing. If these muscles go into uncontrolled spasms, the result is painful, tightening pressure.

What should you do?

If you’re experiencing what you think may be an MS hug, make sure to talk to your neurologist or health care provider immediately. Since the symptom closely resembles that of a heart attack, it is important to rule out any other causes of the pressure. Your doctor will most likely give you an MRI to rule out other things like gallbladder or lung disease. MS hug can also occur in people with other rib and spinal cord conditions.

Treatment and therapy

There are things you can do to help yourself. If you’re feeling stressed, overworked, or extremely tired, you’re more likely to trigger an MS hug.

Try the following steps to avoid a flare-up:

  • Apply a warm compress or heat therapy (Note: Heat may cause more pain in some people.)
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Massage
  • Stay rested and get at least 8 hours of sleep each night
  • Use deep breathing techniques, yoga, and meditation
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing

There are also drugs available to help combat the painful symptoms of the MS hug. Your doctor may prescribe the following:

  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Pain relief cream
  • Anti-spasm, muscle-relaxing medications
  • Neuropathic medications
  • Relapse medications

Talk with your health care team about the best combination of treatments to help relieve the painful grasp from MS hugs.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on May 08, 2014
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