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Overview of Pain as a Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis

Descriptions of Different Types of Pain and What They Feel Like

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Updated January 07, 2009

Multiple sclerosis (MS) can be very painful. In fact, for many of us with MS, it is difficult to believe that as recently as the 1980s, MS was considered a painless condition. I have been struggling to figure out how or why anyone could make that claim, as pain - in many different forms - has been one of the worst manifestations of my MS. It is estimated that around 80% of people with MS experience MS-related pain at some point, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates that up to 50% of us are plagued by chronic pain.

What Does Pain as a Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis Feel Like?

Pain in MS is complicated. It can fall into one (or more) of the following categories:
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Musculoskeletal or secondary pain
  • Paroxysmal pain

Neuropathic pain

Neuropathic pain is the most common kind of pain in MS and is caused by the demyelination of the disease process itself. It can be explained as follows: Nociceptors are nerve endings that specifically detect painful stimuli. When demyelination occurs, nerve signals traveling along nerve cells may get misdirected to nearby nociceptors, which mistakenly communicate pain signals to the brain.

Allodynia: This is a particular type of sensory symptom that is in result to a stimulus, such as a person’s touch or even clothing or bed linens touching their skin. It is stimulus-dependent and only lasts as long as the stimulus is present. Allodynia is usually a short-term problem.

Tic Doloreux: Trigeminal neuralgia, often called tic doloureux (French for “painful twitch”), is perhaps the most intensely painful MS-related symptom. It can be described most commonly as an intense, sharp pain occurring in the lower part of the face (often triggered by chewing, drinking or brushing one’s teeth). The most intense pain from this is short-lived (from a few seconds to up to two minutes), but can result in a more constant burning or aching. Read the full article: Trigeminal Neuralgia as a Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis.

MS Hug: Like many MS symptoms, the “MS hug” feels different for different people – it also feels different in the same people on different days or at different times of day. It can be: felt anywhere on the torso, from the waist to the shoulders; localized (in one small area) or encircle the body; intermittent or constant; felt as sharp pain, dull pain, burning pain, tickling, tingling, a crushing or constricting sensation or intense pressure. Read the full articles: Multiple Sclerosis “Hug” or Girdle-Band Sensation and Tips for Dealing with the MS Hug.

Dysthesia: Usually this refers to a situation where a normal stimulus, such as a light touch, is perceived as painful or otherwise unpleasant, such as burning, itching or prickling.

Parasthesia: This feels like numbness, pins and needles, burning, severe itchiness, tingling, buzzing or vibrating sensations. Although often this is described as extremely annoying and unpleasant, occasionally the sensation can be so intense as to be painful. Read the full article: Numbness and Tingling as a Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis.

Headaches: People with multiple sclerosis are much more prone to migraine-like or cluster headaches than people in the general population. Read the full articles: Headaches as a Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis and Treating Headaches in Multiple Sclerosis.

Optic Neuritis: Most people with optic neuritis (about 90%) experience pain when moving their eyes. This pain usually subsides after a couple of days, even if vision is still affected. Read the full article: Optic Neuritis as a Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis.

Go to Page 2 to learn about musculoskeletal pain and paroxysmal pain associated with multiple sclerosis.

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