MS Hug: How to Ease the Pain

If you’ve been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord, you might have felt a band of pain around your torso. It’s often called the “MS hug.”

What You’re Feeling

Like most symptoms of MS, the feeling is different for each person. You might have pain under your rib cage or anywhere between your neck and waistline. It 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 say it’s a crippling pressure below their ribs that can make it hurt to breathe. People often say it’s like wearing a girdle around the middle of your body. For that reason, you may also hear it called 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 you move, bend, or breathe. If these muscles have spasms, you feel painful, tightening pressure.

What Should You Do?

If you think you’re having an MS hug, talk to your neurologist or main doctor right away. The symptoms can seem like those of a heart attack, so it’s important to make sure that’s not the case and to rule out any other causes of the pressure.

Your doctor will most likely give you an MRI to look for other things, like gallbladder or lung disease. MS hug can also happen to people with other rib and spinal cord conditions.

Treatment and Therapy

You’re more likely to trigger an MS hug if you’re feeling stressed, overworked, or very tired. So try to take good care of yourself and avoid a flare.

A few things to try:

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

Medications can also fight the pain of an MS hug. Your doctor may prescribe:

Talk with your health care team about the best mix of treatments for you.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on May 07, 2016



John Hopkins Medicine: “Multiple Sclerosis (MS).”

Galey, T. International Journal of MS Care, winter 2004.

Multiple Sclerosis Foundation: “Give Me A Hug, But Not an MS Hug.”

National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Multiple Sclerosis Association of America.

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