Numbness or Tingling

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: February 2024 | Last updated: February 2024

Living with multiple sclerosis (MS) comes with its share of challenges. A common symptom of MS is numbness or tingling in the face, hands, arms, legs, or feet. While usually not painful, these sensations can be unsettling. Understanding these symptoms can help people with MS manage and cope with numbness and tingling more effectively.1-3

What are numbness and tingling?

Numbness and tingling are sensations that come from the nervous system. Numbness is the loss of sensation or feeling in a particular part of the body. Tingling refers to a prickling or "pins and needles" sensation. Imagine the feeling when your arm or foot falls asleep. It feels numb, heavy, and often comes with a pins-and-needle sensation.1-4

Numbness and tingling are not always linked to MS. Numbness and tingling can be linked to other medical conditions like diabetes, carpel tunnel syndrome, shingles, and vitamin deficiencies. Always talk with your doctor about any new symptoms you experience.2

How do numbness and tingling affect people with MS?

Numbness and tingling are some of the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis. For people with MS, numbness and tingling can happen anywhere in the body. These sensations often occur in the face, hands, arms, legs, and feet. They may be the first symptom a person experiences in their MS journey.1,2,4

These symptoms can range from mild to more intense. They can be temporary or long-lasting (chronic). For many people with MS, the numbness and tingling comes and goes. Every person is different.1,2,4

There are 4 types of numbness. The first 3 are common in people with MS:2

  • Paresthesia – Burning or prickling sensation. It is also described as tingling, buzzing, skin crawling, and itching.
  • Dysesthesia – Burning sensation along a nerve or changes from non-painful touch to painful.
  • Hyperesthesia – An increase in sensitivity to pain.
  • Anesthesia – Complete loss of any sensation such as touch, pain, or temperature. This symptom is very rare in people with MS.

Here are some real-life examples of how these symptoms might impact your day-to-day functioning. For instance, if you:1,2,4

  • Have numbness in your feet, you might have difficulty keeping your balance while walking
  • Have numbness in your hands, you may have trouble writing, typing, dressing yourself, and handling objects
  • Have numbness in your face, you may have slurred speech

In some cases, the numbness and tingling may become so severe that you are unable to use the affected body part. Be extra careful when experiencing severe symptoms.1,4

For arm or foot numbness, be careful around heat sources, such as fires or hot water, to prevent burns. For face numbness, be careful when eating so as not to bite the inside of your mouth or tongue. Fortunately, for most people with MS, numbness and tingling are not permanent sensations.1,4

What causes numbness and tingling in MS?

Numbness and tingling in MS are typically linked to demyelination. Demyelination is a process where the protective covering of nerve fibers (myelin) is damaged. This causes communication problems between your brain and your body. The disruption in the normal flow of nerve signals leads to abnormal sensations – such as numbness and tingling – in the affected areas.4

What are treatment options for numbness and tingling?

Because numbness and tingling usually come and go and are typically not painful, medicine is not prescribed in most cases. However, if these symptoms arise due to an acute MS flare, your doctor may prescribe a steroid to reduce inflammation and help you recover feeling in the affected area faster. This can be helpful for those whose daily activities or jobs are negatively impacted by MS.1,2,4

Other drugs that might be used to treat severe numbness and tingling symptoms include:2

  • Antiseizure drugs may help control painful burning or electric shock-like sensations. These drugs include:
    • Neurontin® (gabapentin)
    • Lyrica® (pregabalin)
  • Antidepressants may also be prescribed to help reduce numbness. These include:2
    • Cymbalta® (Duloxetine)
    • Pamelor® (nortriptyline)
    • Tofranil® (imipramine)
    • Elavil® (amitriptyline)

Many of these drugs may increase drowsiness. Always talk with your doctor before taking any medicine to treat MS symptoms.2

Lifestyle habits that can help

There are other ways besides medicine to relieve MS numbness and tingling symptoms. Here are some other approaches that can help manage MS symptoms on a broader scale:5

  • Use assistive devices – In some cases, a brace, cane, or orthotic inserts may help improve mobility and reduce the risk of falls.
  • Consider physical therapyWorking with a physical therapist can help improve strength, balance, and coordination. A physical therapist can also help teach strategies to aid in performing daily activities.
  • Be mindful of temperature changes – Increased body heat can worsen symptoms, so take steps to stay cool whenever possible.
  • Take steps to relieve stress – Stress can be a trigger for MS symptoms. Incorporate moments of your day when you can take some time to relax. Yoga and deep breathing exercises can be very helpful.
  • Get regular exerciseRegular movement is recommended for people with MS. If working up a sweat bothers you or worsens MS symptoms, try swimming.

These are general positive lifestyle changes that are recommended for those with MS. But every person is different. Do what works for you.

Talk with your doctor

If you currently have any numbness or tingling in any area of your body, speak with your doctor. They can help develop a treatment plan that is right for you.2

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