Numb buzzing sensation shown as bees inside a person

Life With MS: Numbness & Tingling

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”. 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). While that is sometimes true in the case of numbness and tingling, the opposite is often true as well, the brain may get a signal to the arm or leg or face, but it isn’t able to get the correct feedback from it. The information about the affected area doesn’t make it back to the brain to get processed correctly.

Effects

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.

Thanks for reading!

Devin

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Comments

View Comments (13)
  • loosetooth
    5 months ago

    I experience the paresthesia, especially in my legs, as the feeling that they’re really, really, downright painfully cold. Happens at minimum for a few hours once a day. The temperature around me is the same with or without these feelings. Nothing makes them go away.
    It’s a weird thing, how the MS makes such devious little plans to deceive us. . .

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    5 months ago

    Thanks for sharing loosetooth! I very much understand that sensation!

  • Dorry
    6 months ago

    I haven’t been diagnosed with MS but have most of the symptoms. I am sitting here with a burning sensation in my legs as if someone poured boiling water over my legs.
    I like your explanation Devin about. “If bees buzzing” was a physical sensation then this is how it feels. I want to remember this explanation as this is exactly how I feel but wouldn’t know how to describe this sensation other than to say that my legs have a weird sensation and I can’t describe it. Which is why it helps to read other people’s stories/experiences as it puts mine/others into some perspective and make us not feel as if we are going mad to describe it this way. But it is true. This is how it feels. Just like bees buzzing. Thank you Devin and I hope you don’t feel so alone now as if you are the only one who feels this sensation in your legs, because I DO.

  • gardenguru
    6 months ago

    I really appreciate your writing style !! You get to the point, are succinct in your descriptions and help me feel understood. I’m noticing that driving is at times challenging. Not always sure my foot is where I want it to be.
    Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts

  • lcal
    6 months ago

    hi gardenguru
    i understand the driving issue. i seldom can drive anymore but was finding myself looking down to see if my foot was on pedal
    and such is life with ms
    lisa

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    6 months ago

    Thanks so much gardenguru, appreciate you taking the time to comment!

  • Julie
    6 months ago

    I was just telling friends about my experience of shoe shopping with my daughter this weekend. I love shoes, I used to have a closet full of them. Now, it’s a chore. Is my foot all the way in, is it too tight, too loose? I can’t wear heels or anything with a slick sole. It all makes me tired thinking of it.

    I never thought that something so numb could hurt but it does. I get electric shocks down my legs and pain in my feet. Sometimes I find myself scratching a spot on my leg because I swear it itches.

    One of the first signs that my feet were going weird was when I was in my son’s bedroom. I stepped into a puddle of wet and yelled at him because he spilled something on the carpet only to discover that by touching it the carpet was in fact dry.

    I think that in my body, all my sensory nerves are screwed up in my feet and legs. Is it something I’ve had to get used to? yes. Am I happy about it? NO

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    6 months ago

    Thank you Julie! You comment certainly struck a chord with me. I have similar issues with my feet, also with my hands. So putting on shoes and tying shoes are a huge problem for me. I also have that wet sensation a lot, it often goes up my whole leg too (https://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/some-of-the-weirder-ms-symptoms/).

  • sevensix
    6 months ago

    Paresthesia left shoulder and arm became bothersome (and some pain) again mandating a series of imaging cervical spine and incidentally lower spine with unrelated complaint.
    Lesions C2 – C7, T1 visualized. Doc can’t fix lesions. I have to live with this now. Fortunately, not much pain. The good news dodged the bullet lumbar intervention #8.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    6 months ago

    Thank you and sorry to hear sevensix! Glad it isn’t painful! And it’s always nice to dodge another lumbar puncture!

  • mascha
    6 months ago

    And again you seem to do your topics at the right time for me. I have this issue every day and it gets worse when I’ve been active or being in the sun. It’s often painful as well.
    I’m happy you shared this because I tend to forget the real reason and need to re read.
    Great article:)

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    6 months ago

    Thanks so much mascha!

  • lcal
    6 months ago

    I find it most difficult trying to explaing numbness and nerve pain going on all at once but as alot of us know it does. I think most of us have developed the ability to lol at ourselves. maybe ms ppl were comedians in past life
    lisa

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