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.
A person’s MS tingling patterns can help guide their doctor’s treatment decisions.
This article examines what MS tingling feels like and why it happens.
We also discuss the various ways that a person can manage the symptom.
MS results from 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.
For some people, numbness and tingling may occur together, but not necessarily. Each person can experience a different set of symptoms that falls under the medical term of paresthesia, and tingling may be one of them.
People with MS tingling may also notice numbness, feelings of an electrical pulse, or other unusual bodily sensations, especially in the face, hands, and feet. Tingling and numbness can happen on just one side of the body.
Symptoms of tingling from MS will vary from person to person. Some signs an individual may notice include the following:
- painful tingling that feels like needles or electrical sensations
- numbness combined with tingling
- sudden weakness in the area that tingles or feels numb
- a place that becomes painful with light contact
- itching or crawling sensations on the skin
For some people, the tingling sensations of MS are like those a person experiences when a foot or hand “falls asleep.” Others report more intense feelings, 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 may lead a person to:
- not be able to use the affected body part
- experience an overall loss of mobility due to loss of balance or coordination, especially if touching the affected area is painful or if a person also experiences numbness
- have difficulty sitting in a comfortable position
- have difficulty concentrating on daily tasks
- experience 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
The nerves help the brain feel and interpret sensations. As a result, damage to the nerves changes how the brain interprets what it feels. The brain starts creating false discomfort. 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. 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:
Because symptoms are similar, a person may confuse anxiety tingling, also called anxiety paresthesia, with MS tingling or vice versa.
Even though panic disorder occurs more frequently than MS, it isn’t easy to distinguish between the two conditions. However, some key differences may help narrow down the answer to MS, including:
- an episode lasting a long time in one body spot, indicating that a specific brain nerve is affected
- the attack reoccurs in the same body spot
- tingling does not suddenly move to new areas as old areas resolve all at once
One or two symptoms will not enable a doctor to diagnose MS versus panic disorder. Therefore it is essential for people experiencing sudden tingling patterns to seek medical care that rules out other diseases using several diagnostic tests.
While several effective treatments can help manage other MS symptoms, treating MS-related tingling is difficult.
One of the most effective treatments is antidepressants. This is because the brain regions responsible for the symptoms of depression, chronic pain, and numbness are similar.
- topical creams, especially those containing capsaicin
- oral or injectable medications
- opioids, which are a group of potent pain medications
- cannabinoid medications in states that allow their use
While they may not directly target MS tingling or numbness, MS medications
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 MS 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:
- glatiramer acetate
- interferon (Avonex, Betaseron, Extavia, Rebif)
- ocrelizumab (Ocrevus)
- dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera)
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.
A person who experiences tingling as a new symptom or notices that it appears consistently in a new area should see a neurologist for an evaluation.
If these changes last for
MS tingling is hard to treat, and there is no one way of 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.
The 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 life’s challenges 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 help in exercise, yoga, or deep breathing.
- Using alternative and complementary medicine: Some people find relief from acupuncture, massage therapy, and chiropractic care.
- Avoiding triggers: Avoiding MS triggers can help prevent 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 comfortably even when they have tingling.
Below are some common questions about MS tingling.
Does MS cause tingling?
MS can cause tingling because the body’s immune system attacks the nerves in the brain, damaging them.
What does MS tingling feel like?
Damaged brain nerves from MS cause a prickling, stabbing, numbing, or burning sensation as if a person has pins and needles from a foot or hand falling asleep.
Where does MS tingling occur?
Depending on the location of the brain’s damaged nerve, tingling occurs in a hand, foot, or a spot in the body’s torso.
How long does MS tingling last?
MS tingling may last more than 24 hours and sometimes continues for days to weeks.
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.