Life With MS: Numbness & Tingling
Last updated: March 2023
As I was looking through some of my past articles today, I realized that I haven’t really ever covered one of my most common symptoms: numbness and tingling. Sure, I’ve mentioned it a lot, but haven’t really talked enough about the symptom and how it affects me on a daily basis. Numbness and tingling sensations (known as paresthesia) are extremely common MS symptoms and ones that I deal with every single day. Even as I write this, part of my face is numb and both my legs have a tingling sensation. These symptoms are so common that most people with MS that are reading this will know exactly what I’m talking about. However, this may be useful for your friends and family to know.
What am I talking about?
So when we talk about numbness, it can be hard to describe the sensation without using the word itself. Typically, we mean it to be a dullness or even lack of sensation in an area. It feels like the affected area has been shot up with Novocaine or like when your leg “falls asleep”. The tingling sensation (paresthesia) that goes hand in hand with numbness, for me, feels like when you fall asleep on your arm and wake up and you feel like you have to shake it out to get feeling back, except, nothing brings the feeling back. If the term “bees buzzing” was somehow a physical sensation, that would describe the way it feels. Some people experience paresthesia as a tightness, itching, burning, or even a sensation that feels like “your skin is crawling.”1 I also sometimes experience it as a “wet” sensation, where it feels like part of my body is soaking wet, even though it’s bone dry.
Why does this happen?
Like most MS symptoms, numbness and tingling are caused by the demyelination of our nerves. The insulation around our nerves is either damaged or stripped away completely. We talk about this with just about every symptom of MS, but I think an interesting thing to note here, is that this can sometimes be an example of the absence of sensory information due to demyelination. So often it is mentioned that the brain is sending a signal somewhere and it doesn’t make it or doesn’t make it in time (like when your brain says take a step, the signal is delayed and then you fall, a common MS occurrence). That can sometimes be true in the case of numbness and tingling, too.2,3
These numbness and tingling sensations are often considered just annoyances to most of us with MS. It’s something that we have to learn to live with. There can be dangers with these sensations though. In my own experience, numbness in my feet has led to a few falls. I know of others who have accidentally burned themselves by grabbing pots and because they couldn’t feel the pain, ended up having worse burns than they would have if they been able to properly feel the heat. Numbness can affect our ability to eat and drink as well. While less of a danger, paresthesia can be extremely frustrating, particularly if it manifests itself as an itching sensation.
Part of life with MS
Like many with MS, the numbness was one of my first symptoms and one that I still suffer from every day of my life. One of the first signs I am getting too warm is when the right side of my face goes numb. I think most people associate numbness with the cold, however, because heat is such a trigger for me, I now associate the sensation with warm temps, which some people find kind of strange. Like most of my symptoms, a temperature change and stress can bring the issue to the forefront rather quickly. There is no real solution to numbness and tingling, they are just a part of life with Multiple Sclerosis. In fact, it is such a common sensation for me, that in my several years of writing about MS, I only just now devoted an entire article to it, that’s how accustomed I’ve become to it. If you know someone with MS, they’re probably pretty familiar with it too.
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