You may experience varied and very different types of pain from multiple sclerosis. Find relief with these strategies.
In pain? You’re not alone. More than half of all people with MS experience significant pain at some point, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), with many of them living with chronic pain.
But pain is far from a one-size-fits-all symptom. “MS pain varies among patients and can change over time,” says Danielle Rice, MD, an assistant professor in the neurology department at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and a neurologist specializing in multiple sclerosis at the Loyola University Medical Center in Mayfield, Illinois.
MS pain can be acute or chronic. Acute pain is usually related to a flare or attack, while chronic pain “is thought to be from continued accumulation of damage and incomplete recovery from previous attacks,” Dr. Rice says.
Here’s what you should know about MS pain — and how to get relief.
6 Types of MS Pain
Beyond being classified as acute or chronic, there are different types of pain related to MS:
Trigeminal neuralgia. This is a sudden and short attack of severe sharp or stabbing pain that occurs in the face. It may be mistaken for dental pain and, in some people, is the first MS symptom that they experience.
Lhermitte’s sign. This is a brief shooting pain, often described as an electric shock, that travels from the back of the head down the spine. “It is usually triggered by flexing the neck,” Rice explains.
“Girdling” around the body. People say this feels as though someone is squeezing them tightly around the waist or chest, which explains why it’s called the MS hug, says Jason Silversteen, DO, director of the Christiana Care Health System Comprehensive Multiple Sclerosis Center in Newark, Delaware.
Tingling, burning, and aching pain. Neurologic in origin, these sensations usually affect the feet and legs but may involve the arms and trunk. Burning and aching can be acute or chronic.
Spasms. These sudden and painful attacks of involuntary muscle contraction can happen in the face, arm, or leg, and can be on one or both sides of the body, Rice says.
Low back and joint pain. This pain is likely related to mechanical or musculoskeletal changes you make in your posture to compensate for weakness or spasticity, Rice says, rather than a direct symptom of MS.
How to Find Pain Relief for MS
The good news: Pain from MS is often treatable, Rice says, and there are many options available.
Healthy lifestyle. This is a great place to start. “You want to be sure you’re getting proper sleep, eating a healthy diet, and getting some form of exercise,” says Dr. Silversteen. “You also want to be well rested — fatigue exacerbates pain.”