MS Hug, What You Should Know
Although most people associate a hug with something pleasant and loving, an MS hug doesn’t fit that definition. The MS hug is a common but not always well-known symptom of multiple sclerosis, especially among individuals who have a recent diagnosis.
Also known as girdling or banding, the MS hug is a tight feeling that typically occurs around the chest, which can make it difficult to breathe. MS hugs also can happen around the head, hands, or feet.
Why MS hugs occur
Basically, MS hugs are the result of muscle spasms in the intercostal muscles, which lie between the ribs. However, the pain is neurologic; that is, it is nerve pain.
The hug may also include feelings of pins and needles, stabbing, crawling (like ants under your skin), burning, or aching. All of these feelings are collectively known as a type of dysaesthesia, which means “abnormal sensations.”
MS hug can last for seconds or hours. Their occurrence is unpredictable, although some triggers may include fatigue, heat, and stress. The tightness may or may not be accompanied by pain.
People with multiple sclerosis are not the only ones who can experience girdling. Individuals with transverse myelitis (inflammation of the spinal cord) or ostochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage that connects the rubs) can result in MS hug.
Dealing with MS hugs
- Relax. I know, that’s easier said than done, especially when you feel like you are being squeezed. However, symptoms typically go away without any need for treatment, so if you can relax by meditating, lying down, and/or breathing slowly, it will help you stay calm.
- Try heat. Some people respond to localized heat using a heating pad or hot water bottle. Others say a warm bath is helpful, but if you are sensitive to heat, submersing yourself in a warm tub of water is not a good idea.
- Apply pressure. This may seem like a strange suggestion, but some people who experience the MS hug actually feel better if they apply pressure to the area of the body that is tight. If the tightness is in your head, wear a headband or tight hat. MS hugs of the hands or feet may feel better if you wear tight driving gloves or socks.
- Loosen up. Yes, this is the opposite of the previous tip, but some people feel better with loose clothing rather than tight.
- Try TENS. The transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation device delivers a very low electrical current that has been shown to relieve pain and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis. You can use a TENS unit at home without any need for a doctor or drugs.
- Keep moving. Staying mobile is helpful for some patients with MS hug. Sometimes simply changing position provides some relief.
- Stretch. Doing gentle stretching exercises or yoga can be beneficial.
- Try self-hypnosis. Studies show that hypnosis can be beneficial in reducing pain associated with multiple sclerosis. Self-hypnosis combined with progressive relaxation can be effective as well.
- Distract yourself. Turn your attention to something else, hopefully something enjoyable. Listen to music (and dance gently), watch a funny video, read, call a friend, write poetry or a journal entry, or work on a hobby such as painting or needlework.
- Consider medication. If the MS hug episodes are long-lasting and do not respond to other methods, you might consider medication. Anti-spasticity muscle relaxants (e.g., baclofen, diazepam) may be helpful. Nerve pain can respond to gabapentin and pregabalin.
Everyone needs hugs. The MS hug, however, is one embrace you can do without.
Also read about alternative treatments for multiple sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis Foundation
National Multiple Sclerosis Society