Featuring Barry A. Hendin, MD
MSAA’s Chief Medical Officer
Question: In MS, what would cause a very tight and sometimes painful squeezing around the body, or elsewhere, even in the hands or feet?
Answer: These symptoms typically describe an “MS hug,” and when experiencing it for the first time, it can be both uncomfortable and frightening. It is caused by inflammation or injury to the nerves of the central nervous system, which interrupts nerve impulses and sends mixed signals to the body and its muscles. Muscle spasms around the ribs can also cause these uncomfortable sensations. Triggers that cause one’s MS symptoms to temporarily worsen may also trigger an MS hug – such as overheating, stress, fatigue, and illness or infection.
People can experience MS hugs differently, and while the sensation of tightness is commonly experienced in the chest or abdomen, it can affect any part of the body. With the first episode, it’s important to contact your clinician to rule out other causes. If the initial symptoms are severe, individuals should seek immediate medical assistance. When the episodes are persistent or painful, medications such as baclofen, amitriptyline, or gabapentin may be tried, but for most people, medication won’t be needed.
Certain “home remedies” are helpful to some individuals, such as wearing loose clothing (others may find that wearing tight clothing is helpful), applying heat or taking a warm bath, or using relaxation techniques. Keeping a healthy lifestyle through a good diet, adequate rest, avoiding stress, and staying cool, may help to minimize the risk of an MS hug. For more information, please visit this section of MSAA’s website at mymsaa.org/ms-hug.
Barry A. Hendin, MD, is a neurologist and Director of the Arizona Integrated Neurology MS Center. He is also Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic at Banner University Medical Center and Clinical Professor of Neurology at the University of Arizona Medical School.