Abnormal sensations of numbness, pins and needles and tingling are common in MS, and are part of a group of symptoms called paraesthesia. You may feel the sensations in your skin, but actually these are the result of MS disrupting messages along the nerves in the brain or spinal cord that are supplying the particular area.
Most people have experienced a foot or hand ‘falling asleep’ by going numb or feeling the tingling of ‘pins and needles’ – you simply move the foot or hand around and the feeling returns. With MS, it is a similar feeling, but you can feel it in other areas of the body and it can last much longer. You may even have difficulty in using the affected area.
Numbness and tingling are common early symptoms of MS that often lead to your diagnosis. Rest assured that these symptoms don’t necessarily mean that your MS is progressing – they can happen without having a relapse.
Other associated symptoms that you may also feel included:
The numbness and tingling may be mild, or it might be severe so that is interferes with your use of that body part. For example, you need to be careful that if hot water touches the numb area that you don’t scald yourself.
Likewise, you need to be careful when eating if you are experiencing numbness around your mouth area so that you don’t accidentally bite your cheek or tongue when chewing. Similarly, a numb hand can make writing more difficult and a numb foot can make it harder to walk and easier to trip or stumble.
How long does MS numbness and tingling last?
For most people with MS, the numbness only lasts for a short period of time and will go away naturally. In severe cases, the numbness can affect your mobility, but there are many things you can do to help.
Managing the pain and numbness
Medication can be prescribed for these MS symptoms if they become painful. There are also other ways for you to manage MS pain and numbness:
✔ A burning or aching feeling can be relieved by a warm compress.
✔ Massage can reduce pain by relieving tension and stimulating the release of endorphins.
✔ Pain in the legs can be relieved by movement, if possible.
Many people with MS often say that thinking about the numbness and tingling makes it feel worse, so the best thing to do is to keep distracted. Paradoxically, there are specific mindfulness exercises that encourage you to focus on the areas of pain, and explore the sensations – this can be a very powerful
Treatment options for numbness and tingling
Action you can take:
Fortunately, most cases of MS numbness and tingling come and go. However, if the sensations are painful or irritating, there are some things you can do to help:
✔ If you feel pain or numbness in your hands try some simple exercises to regain function and strength in them, such as flexing and extending your hands by making a fist.
✔ Hand and wrist stretching can also help treat numbness and tingling, whether a therapist stretches your hands and releases them as part of your treatment, or whether you do some stretches yourself as you are sat watching TV or at a desk.
✔ Vitamin D intake can produce anti-inflammatory effects that can reduce pain associated with MS symptoms.
✔ Some people with MS find that acupuncture treatments can help.
✔ Standard medical treatments – anticonvulsants and antidepressants are often used to treat neuropathic pain syndromes.
What are the next steps?
If it seems like there is too much information and you don’t know where to start, read through our next steps – we can help you.