Tingling is a common symptom of multiple sclerosis (MS). Although people often experience tingling in their hands or feet, it is also possible to feel tingling elsewhere in the body.

MS tingling patterns can help guide treatment decisions and may be the first sign that a person has MS.

In this article, we examine what MS tingling feels like, why it happens, and how to manage it.

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MS is the result of the body’s immune system attacking the central nervous system, which consists of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. Over time, this damages and destroys the nerves. This in turn can cause unusual sensations, including tingling.

People with MS tingling may also notice numbness, electrical sensations, or other unusual sensations in the body, especially in the face, hands, and feet. Tingling and numbness often occur on just one side of the body.

For some people, numbness and tingling are the first signs of MS.

In a 2018 study, where the participants were people experiencing MS relapses, 70% of them reported numbness or tingling. This makes it the second most common symptom of MS next to fatigue.

Symptoms of tingling will vary from person to person. Some signs an individual may notice include:

  • painful tingling that feels like needles or electrical sensations
  • numbness combined with tingling
  • sudden weakness in the area that tingles or feels numb
  • an area that becomes painful with light contact
  • itching or crawling sensations on the skin

For some people, the tingling sensations of MS are similar to those a person experiences when a foot or hand “falls asleep.” Others report more intense sensations, such as squeezing or burning.

It is common for people to report bands of tingling. For example, a person may experience a feeling of pins and needles around an ankle or foot.

Tingling can arise anywhere in the body. Most people with MS experience tingling or numbness that recurs in specific locations. The tingling may worsen with time, however, and spread.

Tingling can be very painful and may disrupt daily life. It could lead to a person experiencing the following:

  • loss of balance or coordination, especially if touching the affected area is painful or if a person also experiences numbness
  • difficulty sitting in a comfortable position
  • difficulty concentrating on daily tasks
  • anxiety or depression due to chronic pain

MS tingling is a type of nerve pain. This pain happens because of MS-related damage to the nerves.

The disease causes the loss of myelin, a protective coating along the nerves. This affects the functioning of the nerves and can eventually damage or destroy them.

The nerves help the brain feel and interpret sensations. As a result, damage to the nerves changes the way the brain interprets sensations. The brain starts creating false sensations. For example, a person may feel like their skin is burning or itching, even when nothing is wrong with it.

MS often manifests as a disease that gets better and then worse. MS relapses often occur after exposure to certain triggers. Each person’s triggers are different, so keeping a log of MS symptoms and general lifestyle can help a person identify their triggers.

Some common triggers include:

While a number of effective treatments can help manage other MS symptoms, treating MS-related tingling is difficult.

One of the most effective treatments is the use of antidepressants. This is because the brain regions responsible for the symptoms of depression and chronic pain, as well as numbness, are similar.

A doctor may prescribe antidepressants alone or along with other pain medication. Some other treatment options include:

  • topical creams, especially those containing capsaicin
  • anticonvulsant medications
  • steroid injections or creams
  • opioids, which are a group of potent pain medications
  • cannabinoid medications, in states that allow their use

Physical and occupational therapy may help a person work around impaired mobility and balance issues. It is also important for a person to identify MS triggers so they can avoid flares.

In addition to drugs that directly target MS-related tingling and pain, MS medications can slow the progression of the disease. They may even help a person go into a symptom-free period of remission, including a period without tingling.

MS medications, which doctors call disease-modifying agents, change the behavior of the immune system to slow its attack on the central nervous system. Some people experience side effects, and drugs generally weaken the immune system.

For these reasons, a person may need to try several medications before they find one with side effects they can tolerate. In some cases, a person may need to take multiple drugs or change drugs after a period of time.

Some examples of MS drugs include:

While some MS drugs are oral pills, in many cases, a person will need to visit a doctor for an injection or intravenous infusion at regular intervals.

Learn more about medications for treating MS here.

MS tingling is difficult to treat, and there is no one strategy for preventing it. MS is a chronic illness, and there is no known cure. This means a person may need to develop long-term strategies for managing symptoms and treating relapses.

Some options include:

  • Getting the right support: People with MS need support from friends and family. Education about the disease may help loved ones better understand it. People may also find support groups helpful. In these groups, they can discuss practical strategies, get help choosing a healthcare professional, and talk about the challenges of life with MS.
  • Contacting an MS specialist: Neurologists who specialize in the treatment of MS may be able to offer treatment and lifestyle recommendations that a family physician cannot.
  • Adopting lifestyle changes: Some people find that practices such as exercise, yoga, or deep breathing help with MS symptoms.
  • Using alternative and complementary medicine: Some people find relief from acupuncture, massage therapy, and chiropractic care.
  • Avoiding triggers: Avoiding MS triggers can help a person avoid tingling and other MS symptoms.
  • Receiving psychotherapy: Pain is both physical and psychological. Psychotherapy can help a person learn to cope more effectively with pain, while also offering strategies for managing life with a chronic illness.
  • Adjusting accommodations: The right accommodations at work or school can prove effective. For example, an ergonomic chair or adjustable standing desk can help a person work in a comfortable position even when they have tingling.

Living with MS can be difficult, especially when tingling does not respond well to medication. The right combination of medication, lifestyle changes, and quality medical care may make MS more manageable.

If a person’s current treatment is ineffective, they should consult a doctor to find the most suitable alternative.