Pain and altered sensation

Some people with MS experience pain or changes in sensation which can cause uncomfortable symptoms like pins and needles or numbness.

Pain and altered sensation can be caused by a range of things – directly by the MS itself, due to changes in the nervous system that MS causes and indirectly by immobility and muscle weakness.  Pain may also be caused by bladder or respiratory infections, a side effect of medication, an accident or illness not related to the MS or infections.

There are two main types of pain:

Musculoskeletal pain

Pain in muscles and joints that comes from living with the stresses and strains MS places on the body. For example, difficulties with balance, fatigue or muscle weakness could lead to problems with posture, putting a strain on joints, ligaments or other muscles.

Neuropathic pain

Caused by MS nerve damage in the brain and spinal cord. Nerve damage might cause a range of sensations, from minor irritations to intense sharp or burning pains.

Listen to Consultant Nurse Sue Barnes who explains the difference between musculoskeletal and neuropathic pain, how pain is treated and what you can do if you experience persistent pain caused by your MS.

Whatever the cause of pain or discomfort in MS, physical activity has something positive to offer in helping to manage it. 

If pain is present due to staying in one position for too long, then there are lots of activities in this resource which involve changing position in lying, sitting or standing. 

If your pain is of neuropathic origin, then it is possible that you are taking medication to help dampen this type of pain.  There is some evidence to suggest that including weight-bearing activities in your activity programme can help dampen hypersensitivity and improve numbness can also help to reduce neuropathic pain.

Improving sensation

In the ‘Activity Suite’ you will find a section on sensory activities which you can try out to improve sensation.  The key thing is to do these little and often.  You’ll find specific advice about these programmes in the ‘Sensation’ section.  

Some people with multiple sclerosis also experience muscle stiffness and spasms.  Often refered to as 'spasticity', increased resistance felt in muscles can affect movement.    

Listen to Ceri talk about how exercise helps her manage muscle stiffness.

Now hear from Professor Helen Dawes talk about the importance of flexibility and how exercise helps manage muscle stiffness.

If you want to learn more about muscle stiffness, click here to take a look at an information page on the MS Society website.

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