For nearly 50 percent of people living with multiple sclerosis (MS), severe pain is a pervasive, recurrent, and sometimes debilitating symptom that calls for daily management. There are three major sources of MS pain: nerve pain, muscle spasm pain, and other muscle and joint pain.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease affecting nerves in the spinal cord, brain, and eyes. The exact cause of MS is unknown. Scientists believe that a combination of environmental and genetic factors play a role — but is MS hereditary? Even though genes play a role, MS is not directly passed on from parent to child. That said, having a first-degree relative with MS increases the risk of having MS. In general, the overall risk of developing MS is about 1 in 750 to 1,000.
Several approaches to treating MS-related pain exist, including medication. But even if pain responds reasonably well to medication, therapies such as massage and relaxation, and lifestyle changes such as physical activity, can improve pain control and quality of life overall. Oftentimes, a combination of complementary and medical therapies is effective for managing pain.
Here are five everyday ways to manage pain. The best part: several of these options help put the power of MS pain management in your hands. In addition, the following methods don’t come with the risks of side effects that some medications do.
1. Get Moving
People who stay active can sometimes reduce the impact of their pain. Finding the right physical activity for you can have a positive impact on your physical and mental health.
Research has shown exercise may help reduce the severity of several MS-related musculoskeletal pain and spasticity. Low-intensity exercises and stretching, like yoga and tai chi, help maintain flexibility and increase a person’s range of motion to alleviate muscle tightness. Stretching can also help manage leg weakness.
2. Try Mindful Meditation
A chronic illness like MS, along with its myriad symptoms and complications, often adds more stress to life. However, research indicates a link between chronic stress and more severe MS symptoms — which makes learning to better manage stress an important part of managing pain.
Did you know that, with practice, you can train your brain to better control your stress levels and your body’s physical sensations? You can — the practice is called mindfulness meditation, and it’s has been shown to be an effective way to help you relax. Being mindful can be as simple as taking a moment in your day to be still and to notice the sensations around you.
Mindfulness can help reduce anxiety and manage stress by fostering non-judgemental awareness and the development of better coping strategies. Learning to relax can help with pain relief both directly and indirectly.
3. Get Regular Massages
Massage is a bodywork technique used to relax muscles, relieve physical tension, and reduce stress. Massage can help ease muscular tension, improve blood circulation, reduce swelling, and increase your range of motion.
Massage is employed by some people with MS to alleviate pain. Many people find massage also lessens the severity and frequency of other MS symptoms that contribute to MS-related pain, such as spasticity.
4. Seek the Benefits of Acupuncture
Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine sometimes used by people with MS to address pain. During acupuncture, a trained practitioner called an acupuncturist inserts very fine needles into the skin and muscles. It’s believed that this practice releases, redirects, and rebalances the body’s energy. The strategically placed needles help relieve stress and reduce the tension built up in the musculoskeletal system.
Early research supports acupuncture’s ability to alleviate MS symptoms, especially muscle spasticity that contributes to MS-related pain. Anecdotal evidence also shows that acupuncture may also address mental health symptoms common in MS, such as depression and anxiety. It may also help improve sleep. In totality, acupuncture, in combination with other therapies, has great potential to improve overall quality of life for people living with MS.
5. Sleep Tight
Sleep deprivation can leave you with low energy and a lowered capacity to cope with MS symptoms and tolerate pain. Poor sleep can exacerbate MS-related fatigue and limit your ability to employ recommended lifestyle habits such as getting in some low-intensity exercise every day. This can all worsen symptoms that contribute to chronic pain.
Simple yet important sleep hygiene habits can improve how much and how well you sleep. These include:
- Establishing a calming nighttime routine
- Avoiding screen time before bed
- Cutting off your caffeine consumption in the afternoon
- Keeping your bedroom dark and at a slightly cooler temperature
By Nyaka Mwanza
Nyaka’s bio: Nyaka Mwanza is a freelance writer for MyHealthTeams. She completed a B.A. in Communications: Visual Media from American University and undertook post-baccalaureate studies in Health/Behavioral Communications and Marketing at Johns Hopkins University. Nyaka is a Zambian-born, E.U. citizen who was raised in sub-Saharan Africa and Jacksonville, N.C. However, she has called Washington, D.C., home for most of her life. For much of her career, Nyaka has worked with large global health nonprofits focused on improving health outcomes for women and children. Nyaka believes words hold immense power, and her job is to meet the reader where they are, when they’re there.