If you’re reading this as someone living with MS, then we doubt that we need to tell you that pain and discomfort are difficult, often unavoidable parts of living with the condition. Many people with Multiple Sclerosis experience pain, and the severity of this can vary person to person. Pain can affect people in different ways, but it’s important to remember that pain is one of the most difficult ‘invisible’ symptoms to describe and manage.
Pain – the invisible symptom
As pain is such a unique sensation to experience, explaining how it feels to another person can be incredibly challenging, but is important in ensuring the best possible support from family, friends and medical professionals. Pain doesn’t only come with the immediate symptoms of feeling ‘numbness or pins and needles or tightening of the chest’ but also has a huge emotional impact leaving many feeling distressed, angry and frustrated. It’s understandable that the combination of these emotions and the experience of pain itself can leave people living with MS feeling quite exhausted and can impact the ability to carry out everyday activities.
However, understanding and being able to communicate the different types of pain associated with MS is key to being able to manage symptoms most effectively. Let’s dive in to the different forms of pain associated with MS and how these can be alleviated:
The difference between musculoskeletal and neuropathic pain
If people living with MS are experiencing symptom-related pain, this is usually caused by damage to the nerves in MS, whether this be directly or indirectly.
Doctors and professionals can sometimes use slightly more complicated terminology to describe the different types of pains. But what are the differences between both musculoskeletal and neuropathic pain?
Neuropathic pain is caused by nerve damage in the brain and spinal cord. This is caused by the damaging of the myelin that protects the nerves in people living with MS. This can cause a range of sensations from minor irritations to intense sharp or burning pains.
Musculoskeletal pain is the pain in muscles and joints that is caused by the stresses and strains MS can place on the body. Difficulties with balance, fatigue or muscle weakness could lead to problems with posture, putting a strain on joints and other muscles. This can impact everyday activities such as walking, holding a cup of tea or even going to work.
There is no set time for when the pain can start or stop or whether it will be there permanently or for a short duration. As everyone’s MS is different and unique, there are no set rules on managing pain symptoms. It’s important to understand and track your pain symptoms to help you better manage your MS by discussions with your doctor.
Top tips for managing MS pain
It’s not always easy to manage MS pain, and it can be frustrating for those experiencing it. Here are some top tips that may help you manage your MS pain journey:
⦁ Note down any triggers that cause your pain to start including key words to describe the pain such as aching, burning, dull, itching, tingling or tightness
⦁ Keep note of how your pain symptoms impact your everyday activities including sleep
⦁ Talk to your doctor about the types of pain you are experiencing and see what options are available to you
⦁ Sometimes mood can impact and increase pain symptoms – it’s important to try to stay positive
⦁ Light exercise or yoga
⦁ Try the ‘calming technique’ – a method to help reduce anxiety and stress recommend by the MS society. The technique can help you relax as part of a daily routine and to help slow down your breathing to feel more relaxed
Remember, not everyone’s pain is the same and MS pain symptoms can change over time.