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Feel the Burn — of MS Neuropathic Pain!

I don’t know how many times during my pre-MS life I exercised to yet another workout video where the instructor needled me into holding a difficult pose and said: do you feel the burn?

Yesss, I’d hiss through clenched teeth, can I relax now please? The burning was my muscles giving me the high sign that they’re fatigued and producing lactic acid. It was all good provided I stopped exercising and let my muscles recover.

I often feel burning

Ah, those were the days. Today I don’t exercise to feel the burn. In my present condition, I’d fall over or sink to my knees before repetitive flexes could exhaust any muscle group. I’m challenged just getting out of my recliner and grabbing a can of diet soda from the refrigerator. I often feel burning, though, but not from repetitive exercise and not as a result of muscle fatigue. It’s the burn of neuropathic pain.

I feel challenged to describe this burning pain, but I’ll take a stab at it. I’ll start with a poem.

Let me count the ways

My apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) for writing this parody of her sonnet 43: “How Do I Love Thee?”

How do I burn? Let me count the ways.

I burn to the depth and breadth and height

My shredded nerves can reach, when feeling out of sorts

From the persistent imbalance of being and lack of grace.

I burn despite every day’s

Most quiet needs, by sun and candle-light, dream and repose.

I burn as freely as people with MS pray for restoration.

I burn purely as they turn from their unanswered prayers.

I burn not with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I burn with an intensity I seemed to lose

With my lost healthy self, when I burned only with love or anticipation.

I burn with a malady now, along with

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if Providence choose,

I shall burn not at all after death.


A malfunctioning brain can waste us with limitless tortures. But why do we have to burn so? It seems so Old World patriarchal, a throwback to the era of witch burnings. Burning at the stake symbolized the crucible in which one is purified. The end, it seems, justified the horrible means. The 12th century monarch that tallied the most burnings, Pedro II of Aragon, explained it this way: “No pain, no gain, lady.” Or something like that.

Shredded myelin no longer enables an uninterrupted current

Sadly, our present-day burning pain cannot be spared either. Shredded myelin can no longer enable an uninterrupted current while the axons they protect try in vain to send complete signals. It’s much like a broken telegraph machine that garbles even the clearest Western Union telegram sent from the building next door. Not even Samuel Morse could rewire this puppy. The result is a scattershot Taser-spray of painful sensations. This dilemma is for future generations and their post-millennial hocus-pocus to solve.

Feeling these comic book-like flaming arrows is just one problem. Describing them to someone that doesn’t experience them—including your neurologist—is quite another. Try speaking your burning sensations out loud to yourself and imagine posting them as burn notices, like the following:

Burn notices

I sat bolt upright in bed last night, wakened out of a deep sleep by pain. It felt as if a blow torch had seared my left thigh. I threw off the covers, convinced I’d see smoke and flames. But there were none. I examined the skin for redness and burn blisters. But it was normal.

Sounds totally sane and reasonable, don’t it? Yeah, not to me, either. I think I’ll keep that one to myself. How about this one:

I’d spent the afternoon relaxing in my recliner when suddenly I felt a painful electrical shock hit a spot in front of my left shoulder and seem to burn a hole there the size of a charcoal briquette, then travel down my arm to the fingertips and keep zapping them so painfully that I gasped with every jolt. As if Tinkerbell had a tiny Taser gun and kept darting my index finger with it. Fairies can be so obnoxious when they get a new toy.

Uh-huh, I’ll keep that one under my hat, too.

What would your burn notices say? Do tell!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • KIMM
    10 months ago

    I have been getting this burning feeling increasing over the past few years and my neurologist upped my Gabapentin thinking that that was going to be the cure-all. But it’s not. Because too much Gabapentin makes me worse and that I want to just fall over and be dizzy and weak which is not exactly the outcome I need right now. This progressed from just feeling a needle here and there in a finger or my wrist. Now it has progressed to a burning sensation over my shoulders down my thighs a spot on my calf the spot on my instep a spot on my wrist, and then it will go away. But now it seems to just stay waiting to flare even further. When I try to explain this to my neurologist at my last appointment, finally remembering to ask him about it, he said that it could be lesions on my cervical spine. Maybe it’s from grey matter lesions? No idea but all I know is that the Gabapentin is not the answer but I just need to find camaraderie with some people who suffer just as I do with similar symptoms. And maybe some solutions. Thanks for listening, Kim

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    10 months ago

    KIMM that sounds maddening! I’m sorry gabapentin isn’t working. There are other meds used to treat it, too, such as carbamazepine, oxcarbazepine, Lyrica, Topiramate, and some people are even helped by Benadryl.

    I hope others will respond and give you some helpful suggestions. I’m glad you shared your experience! Thinking of you, Kim, author and moderator

  • joannmaxwell
    3 years ago

    I have tingling and burning sensation in both legs from the knees to the toes. They feel like they are burning up. And yet when touch them they are cold as ice!

  • potter
    3 years ago

    I use to have what I called pin sticks just about anywhere on my body, now I am prone to the nail being driven into my toe, The pain is a lot worse than the pin sticks and now my foot or hand will start jerking when it happens. Ever so often the bottoms of my feet will feel like I am standing on a hot plate. Potter

  • Julie
    3 years ago

    Oh, my favorite late night or over night friend. I once told my neuro that it felt like someone had pounded a nail into my big toe, set it on fire and it was making its way up my foot and leg. Of course, I’m too fatigued to sit up and do anything about it.

    Not without my Dr’s attempt to fill me full of assorted drugs to find the exact solution to my problem. I once asked my first neuro how something numb can hurt so bad. She said, “Julie, your nerves are sick, not dead”. That’s the best explanation I’ve ever gotten.

  • kimmie
    3 years ago

    I am glad I’m not the only one with these unusual sensations. They are so hard to explain! They only last a short time but they are killer. They do make you cringe and can’t wait for them to stop. I wish there was something we could take to control these feelings. 🙁

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