Are you suffering from MS pain and discomfort? You are not alone. More than 50% of individuals with MS experience pain at some point in their lives. MS pain and discomfort varies from individual to individual and it can change over time. The impact that such symptoms can have on your quality of life include changes in sleeping patterns, mood, movement abilities, recreation, and overall enjoyment of life.
The two most common types of MS pain are acute pain and chronic pain. Acute pain is typically related to a flare up or an episode that can be mild or last just for a moment. Chronic pain, on the other hand, occurs when an individual’s nervous system is altered from the continued accumulation of damage from previous episodes.
Apart from being classified as acute or chronic, there are 4 different types of pain related to MS:
- Relapsing-remitting: Around 85% of individuals with MS have this type. Symptoms vary from mild to severe and relapses (attacks of the symptoms) may last for days or months.
- Primary-progressive: Around 10% of individuals with MS have this type. There are no precise attacks of symptoms and there is minor or no recovery. In such instances, MS gradually worsens within time.
- Secondary-progressive: After living with relapsing-remitting MS for many years, most individuals will develop secondary-progressive MS. This period of fluctuation is followed by progressively worsening of symptoms.
- Progressive-relapsing: This type of MS is rare and the least common form of MS. Individuals experience relapses every so often, however, symptoms persist and get worse in between the periods of relapses.
There is an acronym known as OLD CART, which is often used in medical schools in order to assess pain. It stands for:
- Onset of the pain
- Location of the pain
- Duration of the painful episodes
- Character / how the pain feels
- Aggravating (factors) which may worsen the pain
- Relieving (factors) which may alleviate the pain
- Treatment plan to alleviate the pain
The good news is that such an assessment offers an approach to evaluating and diagnosing MS. Pain and discomfort from MS are often treatable and likewise, there are also other approaches available to manage such symptoms. These approaches typically depend on the location of your pain – all over, in your head, in your neck, on your face, in your back and bones, or in your muscles.
If you have pain all over, you may feel burning sensations on your arms, legs, and feet. You might even experience a tight feeling in your chest that gets worse at night or after physical exercise. In such instances, your doctor may prescribe specific medications designed to treat “MS hug” and ease nerve pain. These medications can trick the brain into thinking that you are not in pain, thus helping to actually alleviate it. Nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory medications and opioid analgesics may also help alleviate musculoskeletal pain; however, these medications are often not very effective for pain associated with nerve damage or disease. Moreover, you can try warm compresses to help alter the pain into warmth.
If your head is aching, it could be a migraine as it is three times more likely in individuals with MS. Talk with your doctor about taking medications to relax the muscles in your head. You may even want to consider specific therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), meditation, breathing exercises, and self-hypnosis. Such therapies can teach your brain not to focus on the pain. How you are coping can have a huge impact on how to better manage your symptoms.
If the pain is in your neck, you may feel a brief shock when you tilt your head forward. The shock can move down to your spine, and into your arms and legs. The most effective treatment is to wear a soft neck collar that will hold your head in a sturdy and upward position.
If you experience a stabbing pain in your cheek, jaw, or eye, it is the result of nerve damage. The pain may last from a couple of seconds to a couple of minutes. Your doctor may prescribe anti-seizure medications and depending on whether or not your case is severe, you may need to undergo a minor surgical procedure to block pain passageways.
If you experience back pain and pain in your bones, you may have difficulties walking or performing other movements. This may occur in instances where MS pain puts too much pressure on your muscles, bones, and joints. Physical therapy can improve balance difficulties, enhance muscle strength, as well as manage continuous symptoms, such as pain. Restorative yoga and gentle stretching exercises can also be helpful additions to a treatment regime, as long as you do not overexert or injure yourself.
If you experience pain in your muscles, you may find yourself gripped by sudden muscle spasms. These painful movements typically occur in the later stages of MS and they can be triggered by movement, touch, or emotion. Your doctor may recommend taking pain relievers to reduce muscle spasms or getting a massage to help you relax. A proper massage can lead to decreased pressure on the nerves and an improvement in function, thus alleviating pain and discomfort.
Other approaches you may want to consider include the following:
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle: Maintaining a healthy weight by eating nutritious meals can help you get the proper good night’s sleep that you need. After all, tiredness triggers pain.
- Seeing a pain specialist: If you do not find relief from medication, you may want to consider seeing a doctor who specializes in pain. The right pain specialist can develop a treatment plan to reduce, relieve and manage your pain, without having to rely heavily on medication or undergoing surgery.
- Receiving acupuncture: Acupuncture involves the use of thin needles to stimulate the skin in order to adjust the flow of energy. A few studies have shown that acupuncture can help ease certain symptoms of MS, including pain and discomfort.
Every individual with multiple sclerosis has a different story associated with pain. You may experience persistent pain or no pain at all. The pain and discomfort that you experience from MS can originate from different areas in your body and this is typically due to nerve damage that triggers painful sensations. There are several things that affect what you may be feeling, including your age, how physically active you are, and how long you have had the condition. However, the pain is not always just hard to deal with mentally, but it can also impact your quality of life. For this reason, self-care plays an important role in pain control and it involves staying physically active and maintaining a positive mind-set.
Treating and managing MS pain and discomfort requires a two-fold approach. You need to discover what works best for you and come together with your healthcare team to devise a treatment plan that is tailored to your specific individual needs. It can be a frustrating process, but do not despair as the right treatment is not always medication. You may need to try out several therapies first, before finding the one most effective for you.