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A woman with a snake wrapped around her waist

The Hug You Do Not Want

When I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I did what many people living with MS (PLwMS) do. I read as much as possible and I learned about various symptoms. Among them was this mysterious thing called the MS hug. Hmmm. It sounded highly uncomfortable and something I wanted to avoid. As if one could avoid involuntary symptoms of the disease. It would not be too long before I got to experience it firsthand.

Jumping out of bed

I was at the end of a fairly usual day. I had not done any strenuous activity and I was not tired. I was lying down in preparation to go to sleep. As I lay there, I had a strange sensation. My midsection was starting to feel tight. It was somewhat like a charley horse. As it began to tighten, I had to get out of bed. Once I was out of bed I felt it happening slowly.

My MS hug symptoms

Starting from the area just underneath my breast, my muscles started to tighten. I could feel rows of muscles squeezing. While I stood there leaning against an armoire, I felt what I can only describe as a snake squeezing my abdomen. Around and around it kept going. I suddenly had an appreciation for the victims of a king cobra. I could identify with the slow and painful sensation of having the life squeezed out of me. I knew immediately that I was having the dreaded MS hug. Not knowing what else to do, I grabbed my prescribed muscle relaxant. I hoped that it would help me. After nearly 20 minutes I was able to lie back down and go to sleep.

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Doctor's orders

The next morning I contacted my neurologist's office to let them know about that night. I had never experienced this degree of pain before. Having watched nature programs, I was familiar with seeing snakes squeezing their victims. I explained my pain in those terms. Even though it was clear to me that it was an MS hug, it was my neurologist who confirmed this diagnosis.

I knew that this was not an uncommon multiple sclerosis symptom, but I assumed that it would bypass me. I had not had even a scintilla of abdominal pain before, and I was already taking a muscle relaxant for the spasticity in my arms. After a brief discussion, we decided to increase my baclofen dose as a way to preempt the muscle contractions. For the most part, it works.

MS hug triggers

My first experience with the MS hug seemed to come out of the blue. I could not recall doing anything in particular to trigger it. In the succeeding years, I have found that I have an activity or two that can bring on a hugging session. Any movements that involve bending down or turning too far can cause my stomach muscles to react. This is especially true if I have not warmed up that morning by stretching. It is much like what goes on when I have not taken the time to straighten out before going on a walk.

Activities or movements that involve my abdomen have to be done carefully and thoughtfully. I need to make sure that I have taken the time to do my morning exercises and to gently extend those muscles. I do not always take the time to do this and I can usually get away with it. However, there are times when I start to move the wrong way and I feel a twinge coming on. At that point, I stop the movement right away and wait to see if I need to take an extra dose of muscle relaxant. This has become my go-to solution to the MS hug when stretching did not do the trick.

Living with the threat of an MS hug has become a normal part of being a PLwMS. All I can do is try to prevent the hug by keeping my abdominal muscles warmed up and taking my medication when it does happen.

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.

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