An arm stick out with a large ice block encasing it. The arm is frozen.

Arm Drops Keep Reminding Me of MS

I am in the kitchen reaching for an onion when my arm freezes. I am holding a jar of body cream and my arm starts to drop. Whenever one of my arms drops or freezes, I am reminded that I have multiple sclerosis. It is not yet my arms full-on completely losing control, but I am prepared for the fact that it may well be right around the corner. Sometimes, I can feel a drop before it happens. A slight painful tickle and then an arm collapse that recovers quickly. It is sudden and somewhat unpredictable, although I know that using my arms a lot causes some muscle fatigue. However, the freezes! Those come out of the blue and lock my arms so unexpectedly that I sometimes let out a yelp of pain. Unlike some of my symptoms, it is these little ones that happen multiple times a day that truly catch me off guard. It is as if I have become used to the bigger pains.

Arm issues and MS

Issues with walking, particularly foot drag, seem to be more commonly discussed when multiple sclerosis is the topic. Many tests focus on balance and walking. Researchers often focus on walking ability and we are told that using assistive devices is to be avoided at all costs. It is a bunch of baloney, to be polite. Muscle weakness and muscle spasticity can affect any part of the body, arms included.

2 out 3 people with MS experience arm problems

When I share my MS experiences I feel somewhat alone with my arm problems. It turns out that I am not alone. Researchers found that "66% of the MS population also have upper limb motor impairments that dramatically affect many daily living activities."1 This means that from mild to severe, 2 out of 3 of us experience some type of arm dysfunction. Both muscle spasms and muscle weakness fall under this definition. Some people have one or the other. Some have both. Most commonly it is experienced more prominently on the left or the right side of the body.2 Me? Just like my tinnitus, I experience spasms and weakness on both sides. I guess that makes me the Switzerland of MS.

Living with the extremes

It is stranger to have both arm drops and arm freezes. They are on the opposite end of the spectrum and painful in their own way, physically and emotionally. No matter what I have in my hands, I am grateful I didn't spill or break it. Although I know it is uncontrollable, I get angry at myself. Why could I not have fought harder when I felt a twinge? If I were more vigilant, maybe I could have stopped it mid-drop. Every arm drop brings fear. Will this be the last small one or will they get more frequent? On the opposite end, the arm spasms are too painful to cause fear in the moment. At that point, all I care about is not moving because it feels like my arm might break if don't hold it completely still. I have become more deliberate with my arm movements these days. I do not have the same luxuries I had a couple of years ago. I can no longer take my arms for granted.

What can I do?

I have been as proactive as I can with this. I have medications that address both the physical and neurological pain associated with my arm pain. I have been lucky to have healthcare professionals who are my partners in care. I also have exercises that I should be doing daily, and I emphasize "should" and the advice to massage my arm and back muscles. All of these help with different aspects of my troublesome arms. What they cannot do is address the feelings that come over me with each reminder of multiple sclerosis. The quick and unexpected intrusions that happen while I am being active. The little thing that pops up during mundane circumstances reminds me that I cannot control my body. It is at the moment I feel vulnerable to this disease. Then, like all other multiple sclerosis fighters, I keep it moving...unless it's a freeze.

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