MS Just Wants to Give You a Hug
Have you ever gotten a bear hug from someone twice your size? Wait, that sounds a little too warm and fuzzy - so what about a hug from a giant boa constrictor? Or maybe you’ve laid out in the middle of the road to relax, only to have a cement truck slowly drive over your chest? No? That’s surprising. Well, if you have multiple sclerosis (MS), you might not be missing out. I’m sure you’ve heard of the “MS hug” if you haven’t already experienced it a few times yourself. But what is the MS hug?
What is the MS hug?
The MS hug is a symptom that feels far less pleasant than its name might imply. It’s a painful sensation that usually occurs in the chest but can really be felt anywhere in the torso. This symptom feels less like a hug and more like someone tightly wrapped a bunch of those exercise resistance bands around your chest. It can last just minutes or multiple days. Everyone is different.
The sensation can be caused by muscle spasms
All the ribs in your chest are held together by small muscles that let your chest expand when you breathe or bend as you move. These muscles are called intercostal muscles, and like everything else in your body, they are controlled by nerves. Much like how MS can cause muscle spasms in your arms or legs, MS can also cause these small intercostal muscles to spasm. This results in a painful feeling of tightness in or around your chest. Just like...a hug?
It's like a snake wrapped around my chest...
When I was first diagnosed with MS, I got this all the time. It was miserable! Like everyone else, I didn’t think this felt anything like a hug. It felt more like what I would imagine a colossal snake wrapping around my chest or being run over by a cement truck would feel like. Although, even those descriptions don’t really do it any justice if you ask me.
...or my ribs being pulled inwards
Instead, I always felt like I had a black hole inside my chest, whose inescapable gravity was pulling all my ribs inwards towards a single infinitesimally small point in space. As if my chest was being sucked inwards by a powerful vacuum rather than being crushed from the outside by something heavy. I usually felt like the source of this pain was my sternum. It felt as if all the bones in my torso wanted to relocate to the center of my breastbone.
Is there a treatment for the MS hug?
Well, there are a few options available such as steroids, pain relievers, and muscle relaxers, but in my experience? No pill ever brought me any relief. Luckily there are lots of ways you can manage this yourself at home. Some people find that a heat compress, wearing tight clothes, meditation, or a massage helps. My problem here is that none of that worked for me.
If you’re experiencing chest pain, you should contact your doctor before trying to treat it on your own. This symptom can be similar to a heart attack, so you might want to be sure it’s nothing life-threatening.
Finding the least uncomfortable position
As mentioned above, medication didn’t help me at all. Nor did a heat compress over tight clothing. So, what worked for me? What got me through feeling like my chest was about to implode? Drum roll please...nothing. Nothing ever helped ease the MS hug for me. All I would do is lie down flat on the floor with my knees bent and feet up on a chair. I don’t know why, but this position seemed to be most comfortable.
Taking deep breaths
Then I would take slow, deep breaths as I tried to imagine this symptom was slowly disappearing. Does that count as meditation? Mind over matter, right? When the pain was at its peak, I usually found myself literally grabbing my ribs/chest and trying to pull them away from each other. I only did this because, again, I felt like my chest was caving in on itself. So in my head, I needed to try to pull my ribs away from the pit of quicksand my chest was slipping into. Think of the sandpit monster that swallowed Boba Fett in Star Wars.
What about you?
Have you ever experienced the MS hug? Do you still? How would you describe it? How long did/does it last for you? Were you able to find relief? Share in the comments below; maybe your answer will help someone else?
Does your employer provide workplace accommodations due to your MS?