How to Manage Your Multiple Sclerosis Pain

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on March 05, 2022
3 min read

Each person with multiple sclerosis has a different pain story. You might not have any at all. Or you could feel a tingle, stab, or spasm.

The pain can affect different places in your body. It depends on the cause:

  • Damage to the neurons in your brain and spine
  • Aches in your bones, joints, and muscles

Lots of things affect what you feel, including how long you’ve had MS, your age, and how active you are.

Your feet, legs, and arms might burn and ache. In the early stages of the disease, you might feel a tightness around your belly or chest that gets worse at night, after exercise, or with changes in temperature. It’s called the “MS hug.” It could make surprising things uncomfortable, such as the feel of your bedcovers or getting dressed.

Treatment: Your doctor will consider what kind of medicine you need. You might take a pain reliever like acetaminophen or use a skin gel with a pain reliever like lidocaine. Your doctor could prescribe medications for seizures or depression. They affect how your central nervous system reacts to pain. You can also try warm compresses or pressure gloves. They help change the pain to warmth.

It might feel like a terrible toothache. Or it could be a stabbing pain in your eye, cheek, or jaw. It can happen when you chew, talk, or brush your teeth. It may last from a few seconds to a few minutes. But it isn’t a problem with your teeth. Instead, it’s the result of nerve damage.

Treatment: Your doctor may prescribe anti-seizure drugs or may give you a nerve block injection. If your case is severe and medicine doesn’t help, you may need minor surgery to block those pain pathways.

You may feel a brief shock when you nod your head forward. It can travel down your spine and into your arms and legs.

Treatment: The simplest one is to wear a soft neck collar to hold your head steady. Your doctor may prescribe an anti-seizure drug such as gabapentin, lamotrigine, or pregabalin to ease pain.

You may be gripped by a sudden spasm, in which your arm tightens, your hand claws at the air, or your leg kicks out. These painful movements generally happen in the later stages of MS. Triggers include touch, movement, and emotion.

Treatment: Your doctor may recommend pain relievers and drugs to ease muscle spasms. They may prescribe muscle relaxers, such as baclofen, tizanidine, or diazepam, or recommend spinal infusion pumps of muscle relaxers or pain medication. Even Botox shots can help by temporarily paralyzing a muscle or nerve. Stretches and range-of-motion exercises may also help.

This may stem from too much pressure on your bones, joints, and muscles. It happens when you push your body to move. You can get it if you have a hard time walking or other movement problems.

Treatment: You can work with a physical therapist. Also try massage and heat. Practice meditation, tai chi, or yoga. Over-the-counter pain-relievers like ibuprofen and aspirin can also help.

It could be a migraine. People with MS are three times more likely to have them.

Treatment: Talk to your doctor or a headache specialist about the best medications. Those might include:

  • Drugs that also treat depression
  • Botox to relax certain muscles in your head

You may want to ask your doctor about other methods, like hypnosis, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral therapy, in which you learn new ways to respond to problems.

It’s also important to reach out to your loved ones. Social support is good for you! So let them know what’s going on and how they can help.