More than anything, I wish I could tell all of you with multiple sclerosis who suffer with numbness, tingling and/or burning (aka paresthesia) that I knew how to make it go away. Unfortunately, I don't know how to make it go away. However, I have a few tips that might make it a little better for you.
Anybody that has paresthesia knows that this MS symptom can make life miserable. It can make walking or driving difficult, sex loses its appeal if the genital region is affected, and the sensation can negatively impact sleep.
It not only can be physically annoying or even downright painful, it can also wear you down in other ways. Emotionally, the numbness constantly reminds you that you have MS, that your body is not working right, and that it might get worse in the future. Mentally, it can be difficult to keep one's mind on a complicated task or follow a lively conversation when your extremities feel like they are on fire.
Having said all that, I want to encourage all of you to temper any expectations that you have of a total "fix" of this symptom and aim a little lower, to feeling the numbness a little less. What if you felt 25% better? If your feet felt 18% more normal? What if you tried several things at the same time and got a total of 30% relief? In my opinion, it is worth trying lots of different things to get incremental benefit –- even layering several different approaches if you find some that work a little.
I know that my paresthesia gets much worse when I am stressed. I am so sensitive to this that just trying to remember or imagine a stressful situation to give a concrete example has ratcheted up the tingling in my feet while I sit still writing this.
I know it's easier said than done in many situations, but I find that taking a little break from the stress can also have the result of easing the tingling. If you can find time to turn off that part of your brain that has you worried about finances, wondering how you are going to get everything done, or replaying an angry conversation, I can almost guarantee that your symptoms will back down a little.
Try what I call a "mini-meditation." This is not true meditation, which is great for those of you who have the discipline to meditate. Rather, a "mini-meditation" is the term I coined for closing your eyes and just allowing your thoughts to drift for a little while -– as little as 5 minutes can be helpful. (Read the full article here: Try an MS "Mini-Meditation" to Fight Fatigue.)
Alternatively, do something you love –- do it for at least a couple of minutes. Listen to a podcast. Read a couple of pages in a book. Go outside and have a cup of tea. This is definitely one approach worth trying, as it can never hurt to spend a little time doing something nice for yourself.
Rate Your Numbness and Tingling
This is another "mind over matter" thing. I find that when a symptom is bothering me and I focus on it, it bothers me more, then I focus on it more. It becomes a cycle and I end up convinced that my tingling is the worst that it has ever been. Give me long enough and I start feeling it in new places on my body.
Try this little exercise to put things in perspective: Get a Grip on Your MS Symptoms by Rating Them
Complementary and Alternative Medicine
There are a couple of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approaches that have helped some people with their paresthesias.
Biofeedback is said by some people to really help MS sensory symptoms. If my tingling feet were really bothering me, I would try this first.
Another CAM approach that has helped people get some relief from this symptom (and others) is acupuncture. Although there is a theoretical risk of acupuncture stimulating the immune system in someone with MS (which is not desirable, as MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease), if a symptom was really causing me distress, I would probably consider it worth the risk.
Low levels of vitamin B12, a deficiency that is more common in people with MS, could cause similar symptoms. You may want to look into getting this level checked, just to be sure.
Try a Dietary Approach
I now follow a pretty restrictive diet, having discovered that I was sensitive to gluten and (more recently) dairy. I can tell you that my MS symptoms, especially the sensory ones, are much worse when I eat some of these foods.
It is not easy to figure out which foods you may react to, but it may be worth a shot. I would start with taking a look at the Best Bet Diet that many people with MS swear by. You can read what others think of dietary approaches to MS and its symptoms here: Readers respond: Do you think a certain diet can help slow MS?. For a list of several CAM approaches used by people with MS, read the full article: Selected Complementary and Alternative Medicine for MS.
Warm Up or Cool Down
Several readers have written in to tell me that their feet get either very hot or very cold (especially at night) and that these temperature extremes are often accompanied by burning or tingling. As someone who experiences both ends of the foot temperature spectrum during different seasons, I can attest to it being very uncomfortable.
To warm my feet up, I have a "wrap" that is filled with some sort of beads or beans that can be heated up in the microwave and put on any body part that is chilly. I often put one on my feet and one over my shoulders and pretend that I am at a spa. You can also stick your feet in hot water. Wearing socks to bed also helps.
Cooling burning feet down is a little trickier. I will stick mine outside of the sheets in the summer. I have also been known to get up out of bed and stand on cool bathroom tiles (a trick from a friend with diabetes who has peripheral neuropathy) until I get relief.
Continue to page 2 for information about medication for this symptom and my "bottom line..."