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Morning Pain and Tension: Is it Stress, or Is it MS?

Waking up in pain

Sometimes we can wake up tense and in pain in the morning.

How unfair is that? We are supposed to awaken refreshed and without pain.

MS tends to throw us curveballs, however. The ways in which we clench parts of the body, even during sleep, are something we might want to pay more attention to, especially if we are experiencing pain as a result.

Sometimes, these mornings of pain and tension indicate untreated (or undertreated) MS (or other medical) symptoms, and sometimes, they indicate areas in the body where we harbor tension and stress without realizing it.

Is morning pain due to stress?

In the case of symptoms that need attention, a chat with your doctor might be in order. It might be that you need a medication or some physical therapy to deal with certain kinds of spasms or muscular tightening in your body, if they leave you uncomfortable or make it more difficult to function.

The feet, for instance, may curve inward as a sign of contractures. This may be the result of infrequent or inadequate use of the feet.

In the morning, some of us may wake up with tight feet that don’t function well when trying to step out of bed.

For those who are sedentary and don’t use their feet enough during the day, take heed. Desk jockeys might consider a standing desk or taking more walking breaks to prioritize strong, functional feet. Use them or lose them? Maybe.

In the case of those who cannot use their feet due to paralysis or weakness, or because they ambulate using a wheelchair or other assistive device, pain in the feet may also occur, not only through their disuse, but as the result of tension trapped there by untreated or undertreated issues with spasticity.

Whatever the cause, you needn’t suffer if you don’t have to. Talking to your doctor might open up a discussion that leads to better therapies for reducing pain and spasticity.

Stress relief

If you generally struggle with carrying tension in your body (even in your feet!), and it can’t be linked to the symptoms of MS or other medical conditions, it may be that you simply hold stress in a way that causes pain.

Stress relief can come from practicing yoga, doing simple stretches, meditation, breathing in patterns, or focusing healing thoughts on your areas of tension and using imagery to help to unlock them.

I have personally found that a morning body scan, from the tips of my toes to the crown of my head, tells me a lot about my current physical and emotional state in that moment. Practicing stress reduction by focusing on these areas has been very beneficial for me. But this only works if I listen to my body.

Check in every morning

Here are some areas of the body (besides the feet) to check in with every morning. Note any pain or tension you find as you awaken. Is it recurring? If it happens on a regular basis or interrupts your daytime function, you may wish to discuss this with your neurologist.

FOREHEAD (furrowed brow)

You can find the area above and around your eyes to be extremely tight, even painful. in the morning. It might be a place where you hold tension, or it could be signs of trigeminal neuralgia. If you have a headache as well, it could also signal potential migraine activity. Or it might be referred sensations from clenching the jaw.

JAW (bruxism)

This is a common problem, both day and night. Clenching the jaw and grinding the teeth (bruxism, or bruxing) are ways that we carry tension. It can happen as we concentrate on projects or face stressful situations while we are awake. It also happens as we sleep.

Sometimes, bruxing is a sign of a sleep-breathing the disorder: the brain signals to the jaw to tense up when the upper airway collapses, in order to improve the tone so you can breathe more freely. Tension in the jaw can also come from MS-related problems like trigeminal neuralgia.

THROAT OR CHEST TIGHTENING

If you’ve had an MS hug, then you know how this feels. The musculature around the ribcage seems to turn to rock and squeeze like a vice! Vocal cords can also be the victim of lesion activity in the brain, which can cause problems with speaking and swallowing. Or, you might find you choke up because you carry tension here.

CLENCHED HANDS

During the day, we see clenched hands as a sign of tension, defensiveness, even aggression, with or without MS. Clenching of the fingers can also be a sign of muscular spasticity. If you awaken with hands clenched, you may need to decipher the root cause: is it stress? or is it MS?

BELLY MUSCLES

If you’ve ever taken yoga, you learn that babies breathe deeply through their bellies, while stressed-out adults tend to breathe more shallowly in the upper chest.

If your core abdominal muscles are tight or painful, it could be due to poor posture, flabby muscles, or MS-related spasms. Some people also suck in their gut as a kind of defense mechanism, an involuntary tension-grabbing response to stress.

PELVIC FLOOR & GLUTEUS MUSCLES

Think about the way a dog tucks in its tail when it’s facing a tense situation. Human beings do a similar kind of tightening in their posterior and pelvic floor muscles, probably as part of the fight or flight mechanism. But waking up with “buns of steel” or rock-hard kegels may also be the result of MS.

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

Comments

  • janepease
    8 hours ago

    My main problem finally has a name. Spasticity. My legs are not mine at times. It was first the right leg, now both. I presented it as the leg being wrapped tightly and compressed, like being wrapped in wires or in a substance that grows tighter while drying, as in leather shrinking. Now both legs, hip to feet, and sometimes upper arms. Prescribed Tizanidine, not much help, Lyrica and another muscle relaxant,allergic to both, now Gabapentin which helps some but has me sleepwalking. Does anyone suffer with this? I have had MS for 37 years, now told I am in final stages. Very difficult to walk. Must use walker, and length of the walk is limited.

  • Janus Galante moderator
    1 month ago

    Thank you TK for sharing this article. To me, it served as a reminder of those things I had learned in yoga but have forgotten. (I haven’t been able to attend classes for many months now.)
    Also, for mentioning the jaw clenching/tooth grinding.
    After having cracked 8 teeth because of clenching them,
    I now go to sleep wearing a bite guard!

  • TK Sellman moderator author
    1 month ago

    I’m a clencher, too! My CPAP (for my sleep apnea) fixed that issue, though (thank goodness!)–Tamara

  • regina
    2 months ago

    I wake up in the mornings with the ankle pain. I talked to my neurologist about it and she put me in physical therapy. It is helping tremendously with the pain. The physical therapist said i have the most rigid ankles he had ever seen. He described them as 2×4’s thats how little they moved. Now if i could just figure out what to do for the burning feeling.

  • TK Sellman moderator author
    1 month ago

    Glad the PT is working out! I am going for deep tissue massage today for similar problems with calves as hard as cement curbs (that’s how the therapist describes them). LOL
    Tamara

  • OneAverageWoman
    5 months ago

    Often times I do have difficulty differentiating what’s MS Pain and Stress Pain.
    This is very helpful.
    I have been saying for a long time, I want to try Yoga. It’s time to stop Trying and Start Doing.
    Thanks.

  • TK Sellman moderator author
    5 months ago

    I hope you give it a shot!

    Give it some time, and start with the most gentle forms of yoga. I have been doing yoga for 22 years and I still ONLY do the most gentle forms.

    It’s really the “anti” form of exercise, it’s meant to relax, lengthen, soften, and surrender to the tightness in the body.

    The breathing and meditative aspects can also be so calming.

    If you don’t like the instructor or class you start with, “shop” around. Once you find them, you’ll be so happy you did!

    Tamara

  • Wahuberfeb22
    6 months ago

    Tk, thanks! Super informative ! I got a great in bed exercise routine from the physical therapists that I saw after rehab the past couple yrs . It’s mostly gentle stretching and yoga, mixed with a few repetitions of other exercises that strengthen. Plus great breathing exercises. I have putty and arm bands from the OT too. Great stuff, very helpful. Highly reccomend to others .

  • TK Sellman moderator author
    6 months ago

    Glad the post helped! I love these ideas, thanks for sharing them!
    Tamara

  • LaurenTead0449
    6 months ago

    Oh my goodness this is me. Why haven’t my Dr’s given me this info? I wake every day feeling terrible I just thought it was the way things are. I get frustrated and nervous about how functional I’ll be.
    Im so used to telling myself to just get over it when I feel terrible. Is it just me, my Dr’s almost seem to soft peddle my issues or refer me to yet another Dr rather than telling me what is wrong and what to expect.

  • TK Sellman moderator author
    6 months ago

    Hi Lauren
    I think doctors wait for us to speak up about symptoms rather than offload all the possible problems. Getting referrals can be a good thing, though… I ended up having carpal tunnel surgery for the intense pain and weakness in my wrists as a result, and have reclaimed the use of my hands, as a result.

    I understand how feeling so crummy in the morning just seems normal, it turns out many of my MS symptoms were things I was living with for a long time, thinking that they were just normal!

    Tamara

  • Shelby Comito moderator
    6 months ago

    Ugh @laurentead0449, that is so unbelievably frustrating. I’m glad Tamara’s article was so helpful – it’s comforting to know it’s not all in your head! You are definitely not alone – many of our members have shared their frustrations with doctors and how long it can take to find a good one. Here are a few articles about that that may be helpful – https://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/advice-on-finding-a-good-neurologis/ and https://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/quality-ms-specialist/ We’re so glad you reached out and please know we’re here for you and hope to continue to be place of information and support! – Shelby, MultipleSclerosis.net Team Member

  • Toddlius
    7 months ago

    I wake-up with back pain. I assume it’s mostly because I walk poorly because of foot-drop. The other night I tried sleeping with my knees bent and my back hurt worse than usual the next morning.

  • Debrahoff2
    2 years ago

    Thank you for sharing . I was just talking about the worst part of my day can be in the morning and often wonder is the stiffness all MS? While it can be exhausting, I agree that we need to take steps to stay active and stretch as much as possible, even tho sometimes it is so painful!
    Thanks again for your insight..

  • TK Sellman moderator author
    2 years ago

    Happy to help! I am definitely not a morning person, MS or no MS, so I give myself as much time as necessary and don’t set meetings until after 10am to make sure I’m fully awake and loosened up after a morning of hobbling around trying to get all the kinks out!

    Best wishes,
    Tamara

  • LaurenTead0449
    6 months ago

    I try mornings are so hard. I had to give up on my pt because they always gave me morning appointments. I can barely walk myself to the bathroom in the morning and they want me to drive and do pt in the morning. I don’t think so.

  • Skydivertc
    6 months ago

    I do the samething. No appts before 11am.In the past I found myself having to reschedule the appts causing stress than making the pain worse. Hating to be rushed etc,since I move slowly first thing.Im glad others were feeling the same.(meaning that we r not alone)

  • J R
    2 years ago

    I wake up in pain EVERY morning. It’s just to what degree. This morning I actually took a pain pill and heard myself saying out loud “please hurry, please hurry, please hurry” to the medication. I was running late and didn’t have time to do my normal slow and easy routine which doesn’t include stretching but do realize it should. Thank you for this article.

  • TK Sellman moderator author
    2 years ago

    Mine comes and goes, normally it’s not pain as much as the stiffness and weakness that forces me to slow down in the morning until I’ve had some time to move around etc.

    So sorry to hear it’s all pain for you, that sucks! And those pain meds can’t work fast enough, right?

    I do use a TENS unit for wrist, neck, and back pain when I wake up with it, and that seems to bring relief pretty quickly.

    You could maybe give that a shot if it’s appropriate to your pain. I can’t take a lot of meds anymore but this has been a revelation for me. Best wishes,

    Tamara

  • Riya
    3 months ago

    Someone suggest me stretching exercises

    Send me link

    Plzz

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