Numbness and Tingling Tips from People with MS

Some of these ideas may just help you find relief

I would guess that almost all of us with MS have gotten to experience paresthesia, the fancy name for numbness and tingling in one or more body parts. In the majority of people, this sensation occurs in the legs and feet. In other people, it can affect the arms and hands. In rare instances, people can experience numbness of the mouth (read more: Mouth Numbness and Taste Disturbances as Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis).

If you are really unlucky, you get to experience these buzzy feet (or other body parts) pretty much all of the time. To me one of the worst parts of this MS symptom is not the physical discomfort, although that can be considerable. I just hate the fact that when I have these weird sensations in my extremities, I cannot forget for one second that I have MS. I simply cannot ignore this symptom, no matter how hard I try.

Adding insult to injury, bringing it up to a doctor usually gets a shrug and we get told that it is a "benign" symptom, meaning that it is what it is, but it probably won't get bad enough to negatively impact our physical functioning. It's not that our doctors wouldn't love to help us - unfortunately, there is very little that modern science or medicine can do to address paresthesia.

So, I have assembled a list of the things that I have heard about from others or tried myself to get some relief.

Some of these ideas require a bit of effort or even a little bit of "magical thinking," but knowing that they have helped some people at one time or another should provide the necessary incentive to give a couple of them a chance.

I also asked for input from others on how they deal with this symptom.

I have posted the answers that discussed only medication as a separate article (Experiences with Medications for MS-related Numbness and Tingling), leaving ideas and tips that people can try at home:

  • I have connected with a physical therapist who understands massage therapy, muscle structure and relaxation. Her work has helped me with numbness, tingling and spasticity. The additional lessons of a yoga instructor about stretching and muscle strength exercises have given me more options to respond to symptoms, and opportunities to get beyond them.
  • My numbness usually comes with pain, so I use Bio-freeze. It is a cream that you rub on your skin.
  • Sometimes I lay on the bed and just tap/bang my feet together while keeping them relaxed. Its a bit like tappotage massage. The small jolts distract the nerves and eventually it gets a bit better so I can sleep. I also use Tiger Balm for the counter irritant effect to distract the nerves.
  • I seem to get relief when I stretch more.
  • I had really bad tingling in my legs for a couple of months. In bed the sheets were was like sandpaper rubbing against my legs. I found that wearing a pair of leggings in bed really helped as it was like an extra layer of skin that was less sensitive to the movement of the bedclothes.
  • I find that warm compresses help (when I am able to sit still for any period of time) and sometimes compression stockings help to ease the pain. Of course, the docs tell me its just something I have to ‘live with.’ C’est la vie!
  • I’ve become more interested in neurology as a result of my disease, so I’ve learned quite a bit about paresthesias. For example, I get the feeling that I’m pressing on the tip of my big toe. It feels as if I’m pushing against a flat surface. Remarkably, when I look at the toe and see there’s nothing there, the feeling goes away. There was a really great segment from the folks at RadioLab about this doctor who was able to solve a particular paresthesia with mirrors. The patient had only one arm, but continued to have painful paresthesia in the missing limb. They took their patient and positioned him so it appeared as if he had two normal, healthy limbs – and the problem went away.
  • Sometimes, the biggest stress over numbness and tingling is psychological, thinking “does this mean I am getting worse?” I don’t get too hung up on the what-if’s, which is easier said than done I know. I have had MS for 23 years and I still worry about worsening symptoms but read a quote by Michael Fox where he said “if you worry about something that never happens, then worrying about it was a waste of time. If you worry about something and it does happen then you will have lived it twice and why do that?”
  • I have found that when I have the tingling and numbness when I first lie down, I apply lotion to my extremities and rub it in thoroughly. I don’t know if it is psychological or not but it seems to help. In addition when trying to sleep to further counteract the tingling, I visualize our vacations which were mostly to national parks. This sometimes helps as well.
  • The discomfort in my legs worsens when I read in bed (which I like to do but cannot do for long). My doctor believes it might be due to the way my head is bent forward on my pillow, causing a pressure at the base of my spine that affects my nerves. I’ve found that if I place a pillow under my lower back, to arch it upward, I can lay that way longer without an onset of discomfort. Otherwise, like others here that have posted, I suffer in silence. Perhaps the best solution I’ve found is to take my mind off what I’m feeling by engrossing myself in some task or other at work. I’ll often become aware of my paresthesia or hug symptoms and realize that I had been able to not notice them for quite a while up until the point I noticed them again. So maybe there is something to the psychological side of it as well.
  • I have [numbness] in my left leg from knee to the foot. However I do not feel it when my mind is somewhere else (for example at work). I also do not feel it when I wear athletic shoes.
  • I have had numbness off and on for years. My leg at one time felt like it was on fire (flames and all) while being down in a bucket of ice. It helped to do self talk, e.g. “this is not a broken leg, it would injure it more to walk on a broken leg, so just continue to do your things, ignore it, stay busy.” In my mind i would wrap it as a gift and put it on a high shelf of the closet, AND CLOSE THE DOOR! It also seems to help to stay VERY cool (terrible air conditioner bills) especially in bed.
  • I began LDN about a month and a half after my MS diagnosis, and at the time it felt like I would soon lose all the feeling in my right foot… a terrifying thought. After LDN, albeit gradually over months, the burning in my feet nearly disappeared and a lot of the feeling came back in my right foot.

Bottom Line: I have put together my own list of tips for dealing with this hateful symptom (see Tips for Dealing with Numbness and Tingling as a Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis), but have tried many of the ideas listed above with success. If you cannot find relief from some of these tips and the numbness and tingling is interfering with your life, you may need to try medication. 

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