A woman's midsection is being squeezed by a large hand. Her torso is wrapped in a black netting and large green bubbles are squishing out the top and bottom to mimic a stress ball.

The Great Big Squeeze

My 5-year-old son has a stress ball-type toy that’s covered in a net. I believe it is called a net stress ball if you would like to Google it for a visual as you read. Ha! When you squeeze the toy, the squishy ball pops out of the sections of the net. It can be very soothing to squeeze the ball and see it pop out across the net. Ironically, something explicitly made to decrease stress or to enjoy squeezing reminds me of my most stressing MS symptom: the dreaded “MS hug.”

The onset of the MS hug is unpredictable

My MS hug does not seem to hit me after specific activities. I can never pinpoint when it happens. It is always random but does seem to occur at least once or twice a month. It tends to hit me during the night. I usually begin to feel some discomfort and tightness as I lay down to go to sleep, and then the pain will awaken me later on.

Thinking of ways to describe the sensation

As I was lying in bed one night waiting for it to ease up so I could fall back asleep, I was wracking my brain trying to think of how I could describe it to my husband. If you’ve ever experienced it, then you know it’s not easy to explain. If you look online, it’s commonly described as a girdling or tightening around the torso. All I know is that it is undoubtedly not a hug-type sensation as the name implies. As I was lying there that night, it hit me that what I relate most to is the net stress ball my son has!

Tight squeezing around my rib cage

An MS hug to me feels like someone is squeezing me around my rib cage so tightly that my insides are squeezing out through each rib. Just like the ball being squeezed and popping out of the netting! It causes so much rib pain because the MS hug is caused by spasms in the muscles located between our ribs. It makes my entire upper back and chest feel so tight and uncomfortable, not to mention the pain that radiates around my ribs. It causes that tossing, turning, can’t stretch it out, or find comfort no matter what type of pain.

My worst MS symptoms

If any of my MS symptoms are my greatest enemy thus far, it is hands down the MS hug and extreme fatigue. It is something that I dealt with early on before my diagnosis but had not had to deal with much more until just recently. I think a lot of the reasoning behind that might be that a little over a year ago, I had a triplet pregnancy. It was tough on my body, when our tiny baby C liked to lay right up underneath my ribs, but who knows the actual cause. Either way, I despise the painful sensation.

Coping with the pain

I have suffered from back pain with my MS since diagnosis, but this type of pain is on a whole different level. I am thankful mine gives me a warning; however, it doesn’t seem to make a difference in stopping it from happening. As soon as I feel the discomfort coming on, I try to stretch out my back, especially around my ribs, but unfortunately, it doesn’t do much. The only thing I have found to help it ease up is the prescription-strength ibuprofen or a similar pain pill. Muscle relaxors also help, but I do not enjoy how groggy they make me feel. The medication does not help right away and doesn’t take the pain away entirely. Still, it does help tamper down the intensity.

Working with my doctor and a chiropractor

It goes without saying that I highly recommend getting the okay from your doctor as I did before taking any higher strength pain medication or other prescription drugs. I have also recently started seeing a chiropractor to see if adjustments can help alleviate some of the tightness and back pain I commonly experience. I have been going for about a month so far, and I can say that it has helped space out my MS hug attacks, but they still happen.

Do you experience the MS hug?

I wish I had a magic solution for this symptom or more advice. Still, I wanted to write this knowing that most of you can probably (and unfortunately) relate. Overall, I regret to inform you all that I don’t have much advice on stopping the MS hug from happening, and the topical medications my MS specialist has given do not seem to help much. So now, I am turning it over to you guys: Do you experience the MS hug? Do you have any tips or tricks when it comes to helping pain associated with the MS hug, and when does yours tend to flare up most?

With love,

Calie

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