4 Tips for Dealing With Numbness and Tingling in MS

There is no magic bullet, but you can get some relief.

Pyjama feet on blue floor
Tom Podesta / Getty Images

Anybody that suffers from numbness, tingling and/or burning knows that this MS symptom can make life miserable. It can make walking or driving difficult, sex loses its appeal if the genital region is affected, and the sensation can negatively impact sleep.

It not only can be physically annoying or even downright painful, it can also wear you down in other ways. Emotionally, the numbness constantly reminds you that you have MS, that your body is not working right, and that it might get worse in the future.

Mentally, it can be difficult to keep one's mind on a complicated task or follow a lively conversation when your extremities feel like they are on fire.

That being said, while there is no magic cure, it is possible to ease your numbness and tingling, make it a little less. It is worth trying lots of different things to get an incremental benefit, even layering several different approaches if you find some that work a little.

Try Mini-Meditation

Your sensory symptoms may get worse when you're stressed. Just trying to remember or imagine a stressful situation can be enough to ratchet the tingling in your feet.

Try taking a break from your stress. If you can find time to turn off that part of your brain that has you worried about finances, wondering how you are going to get everything done, or replaying an angry conversation, your symptoms may back down a little.

One strategy is trying "mini-meditation." This is not true meditation but rather a few minutes you take right in the middle of a stressful situation to close your eyes and allow your thoughts to drift for a little while.

As little as a minute or two minutes can be helpful. 

Alternatively, do something you love, and do it for at least a couple of minutes. Listen to a podcast. Read a couple of pages in a book. Go outside and have a cup of tea. It can never hurt to spend a little time doing something nice for yourself.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

There are a few complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approaches that have helped some people with their sensory problems, like massage or reflexology - a form of massage that entails pressing on certain points on the hands and feet to promote healing.

Acupuncture has also helped people. If you're worried about a risk of acupuncture stimulating your immune system in someone (which is not desirable, as MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease), talk to your doctor.

Biofeedback can help reduce your stress levels, which may help your numbness and tingling.

A dietary approach may also be helpful, especially if you notice that certain foods trigger your symptoms (although this is a controversial topic). The Best Bet Diet has helped some people, but it's to work with a dietitian to strategically pinpoint the foods that exacerbate your symptoms and designs plans to minimize your intake of them. 

In addition, low levels of vitamin B12, a deficiency that is more common in people with MS, could cause sensory symptoms, similar to the ones that are seen in MS.

You may want to look into getting your level checked, just to be sure, and take a supplement if needed.

Warm Up or Cool Down

Sometimes your feet can get either very hot or very cold (especially at night) and these temperature extremes are often accompanied by burning or tingling. As someone who experiences both ends of the foot temperature spectrum during different seasons, I can attest to it being very uncomfortable.

To warm your feet up, try a "wrap" that is filled with some sort of beads or beans that can be heated up in the microwave and put on any body part that is chilly. You can put one on your feet and one over your shoulders and pretend that you're at a spa. You can also stick your feet in hot water. Wearing socks to bed also helps.

Cooling burning feet down is a little trickier. The solution can be something simple, like sticking your feet outside of the sheets during the summer. Or stand on cool bathroom tiles until you get relief.  

Using Medications 

There has only been limited success in medicating away MS-related numbness and tingling, but if your doctor thinks it's an option it might be worth a try. Your doctor may also be willing to try Neurontin (gabapentin) Elavil (amitriptyline), or Cymbalta (duloextine). Unfortunately, all of these drugs come with side effects. However, if your numbness/tingling is truly torturing you, it may be worth trying one of these.

Of course, if your sensory symptom is new or much worse and has lasted more than 24 hours, this may signal a relapse. In this case, your doctor will probably put you on a course of Solu-Medrol (after confirming a relapse with an MRI scan).

Bottom Line

Again, while these tips won't make your numbness and tingling disappear altogether, you may find some degree of relief in them. Trying them, maybe you can bring your sensory disturbance from a "horrible, terrible, awful" symptom to an "I don't like it, but I can live with it" level. 

Sources:

Mackay AM, Buckingham R, Schwartz RS, Hodgkinson S, Beran RG, Cordato DJ. The effect of biofeedback as a psychological intervention in multiple sclerosis: A randomized controlled study. Int J MS Care. 2015;17(3):101-8.

Namjooyan F, Ghanavati R, Majdinasab N, Jokari S, & Janbozorgi M. Uses of complementary and alternative medicine in multiple sclerosis. J Tradit Complement Med. 2014;4(3):145-52.

Edited by Dr. Colleen Doherty on June 3rd 2016.

Using Medications 

There has only been limited success in medicating away MS-related paresthesias, but if your doctor thinks it's an option it might be worth a try. Some people report relief from lorazapam (Xanax). Your doctor may also be willing to try gabapentin (Neurontin) or amitriptyline (Elavil). Unfortunately, all of these drugs come with side effects, most notably fatigue. However, if your numbness/tingling is truly torturing you, it may be worth trying one of these.

Of course, if the paresthesia is new or much worse and has lasted more than 24 hours, this may signal a relapse. In this case, your doc will probably put you on a course of Solu-Medrol (after confirming with an MRI scan).

Bottom Line

Again, while these tips won't make your numbness and tingling disappear altogether, you may find some degree of relief in them. Trying them, maybe you can bring your paresthesia from a "horrible, terrible, awful" symptom to an "I don't like it, but I can live with it" level. 

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