In multiple sclerosis, there are different types of pain that patients have to cope with, ranging from acute (short-term) to chronic (long-term) pain. There are different classifications used to describe the specific sensations that an MS patient experiences when feeling a certain type of pain.
Types of acute pain
As with most other symptoms experienced by MS patients, acute pain has a neurological origin. This pain is triggered by nerves that are short circuited, as they carry sensations throughout the body. The three most common forms of acute pain in MS are:
- Trigeminal neuralgia. This pain is characterized by a stabbing feeling in the face and can be one of the first pain symptoms that appear in an MS diagnosis. The name comes from the trigeminal nerve, which is damaged, thus causing this sensation of hurt. It’s not uncommon for people to confuse trigeminal neuralgia with dental pain, as the two sensations are quite similar to one another. There are meds used to treat this form of acute pain, some of the most common ones being lamotrigine, oxcarbazepine, and carbamazepine.
- Lhermitte’s sign is another type of acute pain, characterized by an electric-shock sensation that travels from the back of the head, all the way down the spine. Sometimes, it’s triggered when bending the head forward, and described as a short stabbing sensation. Medication that includes anticonvulsants is prescribed for such pain, but some doctors may recommend using a soft collar, to limit the mobility of the neck, thus preventing movement that could trigger the pain.
- The MS hug is a term used to describe the squeezing sensation. As another form of acute pain in MS, this hug is a result of nerve damage, and feels as if someone is tightly squeezing different parts of the body, causing both pain and discomfort.
Pain and emotional changes
Acute, short-term MS pain has a lot of emotional implication, as patients interpret it as a sign that their condition is getting worse. Depending on the location and severity of the pain, patients can live a fearful experience, as patients take it as a sign of their deteriorating condition. However, this is not always the case.
Acute pain and self-treatment
A very important thing if you’re suffering from MS is to try and stay as positive as possible. Negativity and pessimism will increase the impact on the pain, acting like a vicious circle, where the mind and body act negatively towards each other.
There are a few ways in which patients can alleviate this pain even without taking any prescription pills. Certain forms of pain can be improved by simply massaging the area in circular motions. In other cases, taking a short nap can make the patient wake up feeling refreshed and pain-free. In other cases, stretching exercises can help with pain that affects certain body muscles, with the condition that the patient doesn’t expose him or herself to any unnecessary fatigue.
Posture in another important factor that contributes to pain felt by MS patients. Even the smallest changes to a patient’s posture can lower the odds of any painful episodes, especially in the neck and back areas. The important thing with posture is to keep the spine properly aligned at all times. This can be achieved by placing a small pillow or rolled up towel/clothing at the back of the neck.
When acute pain keeps coming back on a regular basis, it could be a matter of over-stressing the body, and not knowing how to divide daily tasks into smaller chunks of activity. The problem that a lot of MS patients face is the difficulty in adapting to a more relaxed lifestyle. On a psychological level, people see this as “defeat”, when it’s actually just a matter in making some adjustments to their daily schedule. To prevent acute pain, MS patients need to learn how to pace, handling every task at a speed that’s comfortable for both the mind, as well as the body.
Check your bed
Sometimes, acute pain can be triggers by improper resting habits. Sleeping on a bad mattress can lead to muscle and joint pains, especially when the mattress is too firm, and unable to support and cradle the body as it should. If it makes you more comfortable, consider sleeping with pillows placed under your legs, between them, or wherever you feel the need for more support.
Lifting heavy things
Pain can also be triggered by lifting heavy objects. To prevent that, MS patients should avoid going shopping or, if they have to carry a lot of weight, to be accompanied by a friend or family member when doing so. Since MS automatically leads to a weaker body, patients need to accept this, and avoid forcing themselves to do some of the things that were “normal” before this condition kicked-in. Whenever there is a home chore that implies lifting weight, it’s best to delegate it to another family member. Stick with the tasks that won’t put that much strain on your body, like folding laundry, doing the dishes, or wiping dust off the furniture.
Thermal sensitivity can trigger acute pain. Out of the two extremes, heat is the one typically responsible with pain. However, this differs from one person to another. While heat is known to make some MS symptoms worse, some people discovered that heat can help them get rid of acute pain. Filling a bottle with hot water or using heat pads are two ways to take advantage of heat and use it in your favor. In other cases, cold patches may be of better help. Some people will experience acute pain episodes where their muscles feel inflamed and the skin feels hot. Wrapping an ice pack in a towel and holding it over the affected area may soothe some symptoms.
Acute pain among MS patients can take both a physical and a psychological form. When people feel depressed, their pain tends to become worse. As the pain does get worse, it causes people to become even more anxious, taking this as a sign of a deteriorating condition. In order to avoid short-term pain, it’s important to analyze what’s triggering this symptom, and to work together with a doctor to discover the best solution.