Pain can be a serious issue when you have multiple sclerosis (MS). For many people, the pain is long-lasting and hard to treat.
If it's bad enough, it can keep you from your normal activities and even lead to depression. Several types of pain are associated with MS. One of the most common is called dysesthesia.
What Does the Pain Feel Like?
Dysesthesia means "abnormal sensation." It's usually a painful burning, prickling, or aching feeling. You typically get it in your legs or feet. But you also can have it in your arms. Sometimes the pain feels like you're being squeezed around your chest or abdomen. Some people call that the "MS hug."
The pain may be acute, meaning it comes on quickly then goes away. Or it may be chronic, lingering for a long time. Sometimes the pain comes out of nowhere, and other times a normal sensation changes. For instance, your clothes suddenly feel like they're burning your skin.
Changes in temperature may make the pain worse, and you may feel it more after you exercise or when you're trying to sleep.
What Causes It?
Dysesthesia is what's called neuropathic or neurogenic pain. That means it comes from your nervous system. Although you feel the pain in your feet or skin, that isn't where the problem is.
Multiple sclerosis breaks down the covering that protects your nerves. That interrupts the messages between your brain and the rest of your body. Your brain can't read the nerve signals correctly, so it tells you that you feel something you really don't.
Whether you have pain doesn't seem to be related to what kind of MS you have, how serious it is, or how long you've had it. Sometimes dysesthesia is one of the first signs of MS.
How Is It Treated?
Doctors usually prescribe one of two kinds of drugs that work on your central nervous system:
- Antidepressants like amitriptyline (Elavil) and duloxetine (Cymbalta) can change how your body responds to pain.
- Anticonvulsants like gabapentin (Neurontin) or pregabalin (Lyrica) work to calm overstimulated nerves.
A pain-relief cream that has lidocaine or capsaicin may soothe tingling and burning. In very rare cases, the narcotic pain medicine tramadol may be used for a short while if you have severe, burning pain.
Some pain management strategies for dysesthesia don't involve medicine. You may be able to change pain to a different feeling with warm or cold compresses or compression socks or gloves. Alternative therapies can also be part of an overall treatment plan for chronic pain. These include:
- Biofeedback in which electrical sensors give you information about your body and help you make small changes to ease pain. For example, you might relax certain muscles or slow your breathing.
- Stress management
If you have MS along with this kind of pain, talk to your doctor about it and see if he can recommend something to bring you relief.