Is Hip or Knee Pain a Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis?

Here's what is causing your pain and how to manage it

Joint pain is a symptom of MS.
Joint pain is a symptom of MS. SCIEPRO/Getty Images

Multiple sclerosis does not affect the joints directly, like other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or lupus, which can cause the degeneration of the cartilage or inflammation in the joints.

However, joint pain is very common in people with MS, specifically in the knees and hips. Unlike forms of arthritis, this pain is usually caused by people walking with an uneven gait (in order words, their manner of walking).

The gait of a person with MS can be affected by:

In addition, if you rely on a cane or walker, this can also throw your gait off. You may be surprised to learn that a smooth, proper gait is a very delicate thing. In fact, any disturbance in gait can cause the joints to be sore. For example, when experiencing the MS hug, you may clutch your side with one hand—after a full day of walking around like this, your knee and hip on one side might be a little sore.

Ways to Improve Your Gait

The good news is that you can do something to improve your gait and reduce associated joint pain. One 2012 study found that a combined exercise training program (consisting of aerobic, resistance, and balance exercises) in people with MS with recent walking problems improved their mobility.

In addition to time in the gym, you may also want to consider taking up yoga. There aren’t many studies examining yoga’s effects on MS to rule it in as a slam-dunk symptom management tool. However, there is some evidence that it can improve balance and functional strength, as well as fatigue and possibly muscle spasticity.

Sometimes small changes make a difference. Since yoga is safe, it is worth considering as a pain management tool while science conducts larger studies to decide whether or not it will work for everyone.

In the meantime, if you are experiencing joint pain in your hips or knees (or anywhere else for that matter), ask your doctor about physical therapy. A physical therapist should be able to evaluate your gait and prescribe exercises to help you strengthen the right muscles. If you use a cane or other assistive device, the physical therapist can check to make sure that it is sized correctly for you and that you are using it correctly.

When Joint Pain Is a Side Effect

If you are using any interferon-based disease-modifying therapies, such as Avonex, Betaseron or Rebif, be aware that joint pain is a common side effect of these medications. Make a special effort to notice if your joint pain is worse in the 24 to 48 hours following your injections and if it is more generalized (in your whole body), rather than concentrated in the knees or hips.

Many people find that analgesics, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) taken a couple hours before the injection and a couple hours afterward helps with these symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

If you are experiencing a specific joint pain, like in the knee or hip, it is best to get it checked out by your primary care doctor. While it could be from impaired walking from your MS, something else could be going on like osteoarthritis. So, get it checked out. That way you can move forward with a treatment plan.

Sources:

Frank R, Larimore J. Yoga as a Method of Symptom Management in Multiple Sclerosis. Front Neurosci. 2015 Apr 30;9:133.

Guner S, Inanici F. Yoga Therapy and Ambulatory Multiple Sclerosis Assessment of Gait Analysis Parameters, Fatigue and Balance. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2015 Jan;19(1):72-81.

Moti RW, Smith DC, Elliott J, Weikert M, Dlugonski D, Sosnoff JJ. Combined Training Improves Walking Mobility in Persons With Significant Disability From Multiple Sclerosis: A Pilot Study. J Neurol Phys Ther. 2012 Mar;36(1):32-7.

Socie MJ, Sosnoff JJ. Gait Variability and Multiple Sclerosis. Mult Scler Int. 2013;2013:645197.

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