If you have 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 It Feels Like
Like most MS symptoms, it’s different for each person. You might feel it right under your rib cage, in your chest, or anywhere between your neck and waistline. It can be:
- Dull and achy pain
- Hard to breathe
- Pain on one side of your body
- Sharp pain
- Tingling or pins and needles
It can last a few seconds to a few hours, and in rare cases, a few days. People often say it’s like wearing a girdle around the middle of your body. For that reason, you may also hear it called by a number of names, like:
- MS girdle
You might feel it in your head, hands, or feet instead. People with this type of sensation feel like they’re wearing tight gloves or boots. Read more about muscle spasms and tightness with MS.
What Causes It?
MS affects the way nerves send messages. The tightness, pain, or whatever you’re feeling results from spasms in small muscles between your ribs. The doctor will call these intercostal muscles. They 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.
The hug is a type of nerve pain. You might hear a doctor call it dysesthesia, which means a sensation that isn't normal.
If other symptoms come on quickly at the same time, the hug can also be a sign that your MS is relapsing. Call your doctor if this happens. Get more information on what dyesthesia pain feels like with MS.
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 problems or lung disease. MS hug can also happen to people with other rib and spinal cord conditions.
Can You Prevent It?
Yes. The hug responds to the same triggers as other MS symptoms. Keep notes and learn what sets yours off. It might show up, or get worse if you’re:
- Fighting a cold, flu, or bladder infection
- Stressed out
- Too hot
Medications for MS Hug
You may not need treatment. But if you do, what your doctor gives you will depend on the cause.
If they think your symptoms signal a relapse, you might get steroids to help prevent it:
Your doctor may suggest over-the-counter treatments like:
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- Pain relief cream
Or they could prescribe other medications, including:
- Drugs for depression that also fight nerve pain, such as amitriptyline (Elavil) and duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- Drugs that stop convulsions and also halt nerve pain, like gabapentin (Neurontin) and pregabalin (Lyrica)
- Muscle relaxers like baclofen (Lioresal, Gablofen)
Your health care team will work with you to choose the best mix of treatments for you.
How to Manage the MS Hug
You can try these things at home:
- Apply a warm compress. (Be careful: Heat might make your pain worse.)
- Drink plenty of water.
- Eat healthy food.
- Get a massage.
- Stay rested. Get at least 8 hours of sleep each night.
- Use deep breathing techniques, yoga, and meditation.
- Some people get relief from wearing tight clothing but may prefer loose clothing.
View a slideshow to learn more about other unusual symptoms of MS.