The Experience and the Explanation: MS Numbness
Last updated: April 2023
Numbness has been a symptom I have dealt with since the very beginning of my MS journey. It was one of the first symptoms that sent me to the doctor back when I first began experiencing issues.
Living with MS numbness and tingling
Decades later, I’ve lived with the numbness that comes from MS longer than I lived without it. It’s become a part of my life and is something that is always present in some amount. Some days it’s a minor inconvenience. However, there are plenty of times when it significantly impacts my day.
What my numbness feels like
Much of the numbness I experience is in my legs, feet, arms, hands, and occasionally my face. It can feel like a tingling sensation, vibrating, pins and needles, or like the area is asleep, or “dead.” Sometimes, the affected area will feel like a bunch of bees buzzing, if you can imagine that as a physical sensation. These periods of numbness can last anywhere from a few minutes to several days.
Numbness is more than just a loss of feeling
I will often have numbness in my feet and legs to the point that it impacts my ability to walk. Similarly, when my arms and hands are numb, it can be so intense that it makes it difficult to hold objects, which makes simple tasks like eating and using the bathroom a challenge.
When my face gets numb, swallowing becomes difficult and my speech is also heavily impacted. On several occasions, I’ve had severely slurred speech and people thought that I was drunk or impaired in some other way. In reality, my face was just numb from MS.
My numbness triggers
Like many of my MS symptoms, the numbness I experience often gets triggered by the environments or situations that I come across in life. If I experience a lot of stress, I get numb in more areas and that numbness is more severe. The same thing happens when my temperature increases (the room can increase by a single degree, and suddenly my speech is slurred and I’m dropping things).
Other common triggers that increase my numbness are lack of sleep, being around loud noises, and even minor illnesses (a common cold is often enough to make all of my symptoms much worse).
The impact on my life
The unpredictability of my numbness is often what makes living with it so difficult. Not knowing when I might have trouble with various parts of my body makes planning incredibly difficult. Trying to cook a meal and then suddenly having my extremities go numb can become a disaster very quickly. Expecting to join friends and family for a social engagement can quickly be derailed because my speech gets impacted.
Probably the biggest area where numbness has impacted me has been with driving. Not knowing if my feet or hands will suddenly go numb makes driving incredibly dangerous and something I rarely ever do now, which then has a trickle-down effect on the rest of my life. I live in an area with poor public transportation, so going anywhere from grocery shopping to doctor’s appointments becomes a massive challenge.
You can't shake it off
Numbness may not sound like a significant issue at first, but it’s a much more impactful symptom when you start to think about it. It’s not as simple as the numbness you get when you fall asleep on one of your limbs. You can’t simply shake the feeling back into it. Numbness from MS is unpredictable and can greatly impact your level of disability.
Why do people with MS experience numbness?
Clinical explanation provided by our Editorial Team:
Nerves carry information from the body to the brain. With MS, your body attacks your nerves and damages them. When certain nerves are damaged, your body cannot send the correct sensory information to your brain. This can lead to a variety of symptoms, including numbness.1
Numbness is often the first symptom that people with MS notice. Those who experience numbness may also experience other intense sensations, such as tingling or pricking. This is called paresthesia.2,3
What does advocacy mean to you as someone living with multiple sclerosis? Please select all that apply: