How to Manage Your Multiple Sclerosis Pain

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.

Why Does MS Hurt?

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.

All-Over Pain

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.

On Your Face

It might feel like a terrible toothache. Or it could be a stabbing pain in your eye, cheek, or jaw. It can happen when your 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. If your case is severe and medicine doesn’t help, you may need minor surgery to block those pain pathways.

In Your Neck

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, most effective treatment is to wear a soft neck collar to hold your head steady. Your doctor may prescribe an anti-seizure drug.

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In Your Muscles

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. Even Botox shots can help by temporarily paralyzing a muscle or nerve. Stretches and range-of-motion exercises may also help.

In Your Back and Bones

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 help.

Your Head

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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on December 10, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

National Multiple Sclerosis Society website: “Pain.”

National Multiple Sclerosis Society Clinical Bulletin: “Pain in Multiple Sclerosis”

Multiple Sclerosis Association of America website: “Pain.”

Multiple Sclerosis Association of America website:  “Spasticity (stiffness).”

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs: “Pain and Multiple Sclerosis.”

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