Home Remedies and Medications for Treating MS Hug

How to cope well with this uncomfortable and unpredictable symptom

Stomach problem
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The "MS Hug" is an annoying and often painful MS symptom that causes a tightness around a person's torso or stomach.

While debilitating, the good news is that there are a number of ways to manage it, including both medications and home remedies. While it may take a bit of patience and trial and error, many people with this symptom do find ways to eventually ease their discomfort.

Home Remedies and Complementary Therapies to Treat MS Hug

The following suggestions have been taken from different patient accounts of what helps them.

These are all reasonable methods, although not scientifically proven. 

  • Deep Breathing Exercises: Breathe in as deeply as you can (really engaging the ​diaphragm) through your nose and blow out through your mouth.
  • Apply Pressure: Place the flat of your hand on the area and press fairly hard. Some people even wrap themselves in Ace bandages for the same effect.
  • Creative Visualizations: Close your eyes and picture different images that represent the sensation, then visualize doing something to get relief. Try different images to find what may work for you. Some people imagine several thick rubber bands around their bodies, which they are cutting off one by one. Another version is plastic wrap around their torso, which is getting unrolled, releasing their bodies and allowing them to relax.
  • Increase Fluid Intake: Try lukewarm herbal tea for relaxation and plenty of water.
  • Wear Loose Clothes: For some people, the sensation occasionally feels like an unpleasant tickle when touched by fabric, or feels like a waistband that is too tight. Loose-fitting garments may help.
  • Massage: Some report amazing relief from massage, especially manual lymph drainage massages. I can report that Thai massages helped me relax while I was having this symptom, and made it feel much better during the massage and several hours afterward. Start with your favorite type of massage to see what that does.
  • Warmth: Heat helps some people and makes it worse for others. Try a warm bath or heating pad to see if this provides some relief.
  • Analgesic Creams: Try it on a small spot first to make sure the sensation doesn’t become unpleasant (especially with some of the menthol-based products) before smearing it all over your body. Speak with your doctor too before applying it.
  • A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID): Ibuprofen,  a NSAID, has worked for some people. Be sure to take it only on a full stomach and for a limited amount of time to avoid gastrointestinal bleeding or gastritis. Of course, speak with your doctor first before taking an anti-inflammatory medication. Some people like those with heart disease or a history of ulcers, kidney, or stomach bleeding should not take it.

Medications to Treat MS Hug

Many of the medications used to treat the “MS hug” should be used only with caution and careful monitoring by your doctor. They include:

  • Muscle relaxants like Lioresal (baclofen) and Xanaflex (tizanidine)
  • Anti-anxiety medications that also provide an anti-spastic effect like Valium (diazepam) and Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Neuropathic pain relief medications like Lyrica (pregabalin) and Neurontin (gabapentin)
  • Certain antidepressants that also help with pain like Cymbalta (duloxetine) or Elavil (amitriptyline)

In addition, some doctors are trying Botox, which gets injected directly into the affected muscles to reduce spasticity by selectively paralyzing muscles. It has been shown to be effective in the short-term and works better if the pain is fairly localized (in one small spot, rather than encircling your entire torso).

Finally, if the symptom is severe enough to cause discomfort breathing, your neurologist may define this as a true MS relapse, order an MRI, and/or give a course of Solu-Medrol.

That said, while the “MS hug” can be a sign of an MS exacerbation, it can also be a sign of a pseudoexacerbation, which means a temporary worsening of symptoms caused by an external factor, such as heat or fatigue.

So if you feel the slightest twinge of an MS hug coming on, try cooling off and resting. You may be able to prevent it from getting worse. 

A Word From Verywell

If you experience the MS hug, please know that you are not alone. Pain affects more than 50 percent of people with MS at some point, and its linked to depression and anxiety. So please seek out treatment from your neurologist and remain resilient in your efforts to live as well as you can. 

Sources:

Drulovic J et al. The prevalence of pain in adults with multiple sclerosis: A multicenter cross-sectional survey. Pain Med. 2015 Aug;16(8):1597-602.

National MS Society. Botox

National MS Society. Pain: Overview.

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