The Pain of Multiple Sclerosis: 4 Ways to Manage It

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder that can cause pain and disabilities. Here are four non-surgical ways to relieve the pain.

Hand holding yellow ribbon against blue sky for multiple sclerosis awareness

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease affecting the brain and spinal cord nerves. The body starts attacking the healthy nerves in the brain and spinal cord and damaging them. It is a lifelong condition, and mostly affects young adults in their 20s or 30s, and can cause serious disability. Life with multiple sclerosis may be challenging, but with advances in western medicine, the outlook for the disease has improved significantly over the years. 

Read on to learn more about this condition and discover ways to treat the pain naturally.

Causes of Multiple Sclerosis

Woman with multiple sclerosis holding leg in pain on bed
Leg pain is common in patients with multiple sclerosis

While the exact cause for the development of multiple sclerosis is unknown, scientists feel that our genes and the environment we stay in may have a role to play. Researchers have suggested that certain viral infections and even the region you live in may trigger multiple sclerosis. Low levels of vitamin D are also a risk factor for multiple sclerosis. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), elements like wind, fire, dampness, phlegm, blood clots, stagnated chi and organ deficiencies of the qi, blood, yin (bodily fluid and cooling energy) and yang (warming energy) cause multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis may be of two types- relapsing-remitting or progressive. In the relapsing-remitting type, there are flares in which the symptoms worsen, followed by periods of remissions when the symptoms go away. In progressive disease, there is no remission, and the symptoms continue to progress over the years. 

Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

Asian woman holding hand on her temple in pain
Headaches are a common cause of pain in patients with multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis can cause severe disabilities, though they may be mild in many cases. Symptoms related to the eyes, such as blurriness and pain, are often the first signs of multiple sclerosis. Other common symptoms include: 

  • Changes in the way you walk 
  • Feeling tired 
  • Difficulty in maintaining balance or coordination 
  • Painful spasms in the muscles 
  • Weakness in the muscles 
  • Tingling or numbness, especially in the legs or arms. 

Worsening of the disease may cause complications such as difficulty in walking, remembering things or even loss of control over the bladder and bowel movements. 

Pain, in particular, is seen in up to 63% of patients with multiple sclerosis. It may occur in the form of headaches, nerve pain in the legs or arms, back pain, painful muscle spasms, shock-like sensation in the body on bending the neck (Lhermitte’s phenomenon) and severe stabbing pain on one side of the face (trigeminal neuralgia). 

Currently, there is no cure for multiple sclerosis. However, newer Western medicine therapies, called disease-modifying therapies, can help reduce the relapse, manage symptoms, and slow the progression of the disease. Severe relapses may be treated with steroids. In addition, there is growing acceptance of complementary therapies like Traditional Chinese Medicine to help with the symptoms of the disease.

How to manage pain in Multiple Sclerosis

Hands of practitioner and patient receiving acupressure
Acupressure and acupuncture help considerably in relieving pain in multiple sclerosis

As mAs multiple sclerosis is a life-long disease, it is best to try a multidisciplinary approach to manage the pain. 

Anti-convulsant medicines

Medicines that prevent seizures are very helpful in treating pain due to multiple sclerosis. These include medicines containing gabapentin, pre-galbin and carbamazepine. However, keep in mind that these medicines may make you dizzy and need to be taken only under the guidance of your healthcare practitioner.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is being recognised as having definite benefits in multiple sclerosis by Western medicine practitioners. Clinical surveys have shown improvement in pain, spasticity, as well as a decrease in numbness or tingling in patients with multiple sclerosis who had tried acupuncture. Other symptoms that were improved by acupuncture included fatigue, depression, anxiety, and bowel or bladder function. However, this treatment needs to be performed by a licensed TCM practitioner. On the other hand, acupressure is an easy self-help remedy that anyone can perform in the convenience of your own home. The only thing you may need is a blunt object like a massage stick. If you don’t have one, your fingers might work just as well.

Place your fingers or the massage stick at certain acupoints on the body and apply enough pressure to elicit a painful or aching sensation or numbness. At the same time, massage with a circular motion in both clockwise and anti-clockwise directions, 20 times each. Repeat the massage for at least three minutes per acupoint. Physician Brandon recommends all the following eight points to relieve the symptoms of multiple sclerosis: 

● Baihui DU20: On the top of the head, along the midline of the human body. It lies approximately on the midpoint of the line connecting the apexes of the two ears.

● Taiyang EX-HN5: Located on the temples, about one finger-breadth posterior to the midpoint between the outer end of the eyebrow and the outer canthus.

● Tiantu RN22: Find this point in the depression just above your sternal bone in front of your neck.

● Shenmen HT7: This point is on the transverse wrist crease, in line with your little finger.

● Hegu LI4: You can find this on the back of the hand, between the thumb and index finger bones.

● Zusanli ST36: This point is located on the shin, four fingers-breadth below the knee joint  

● Taichong LR3: You can locate this point on your foot, in the depression above the ankle joint.

● Sanyinjiao SP6: Find this point on the inner part of the leg, four-fingers-breadth above the tip of the inner ankle bone, just behind the shin bone.

However, remember that acupressure can only help with mild symptoms of MS. It is better to seek the help of a TCM practitioner and medical doctor if you are suffering from moderate to severe symptoms of multiple sclerosis. A TCM practitioner may also suggest herbal medications, moxibustion, cupping, and tuina. All of which are formulated based on a thorough assessment of the patient’s constitution. Self-medication with herbal remedies should be avoided at all costs, as many herbal medications, if not properly used, may interfere with the treatment of multiple sclerosis. Also, always make your TCM practitioner aware of any Western medicine that you may be taking.

Exercise

People with multiple sclerosis who exercise regularly complain of pain less often. In addition to improving your overall health, aerobic exercises like brisk walking, running, swimming or cycling helps to reduce fatigue. It also improves your strength and mood and gives you better control over the bladder and bowel functions. Stretching exercises, especially yoga, can reduce stiffness and improve mobility. A physical therapist can guide you on the types of activities based on your condition. 

Meditation and stress management

Stress has never made anyone feel good and harms our quality of life more than we realise. Stress harms patients with multiple sclerosis in different ways; hence it is important to find the right way to address your stress. Meditation, in particular, is very helpful in patients with multiple sclerosis. Patients who practised meditation over two months found a significant decrease in pain and improved physical health compared to those that didn’t. 

Multiple sclerosis is a difficult diagnosis to live with. However, living a full life once again is possible through bridging the innovative therapies of Western medicine and the health-boosting traditional ones. 

References

  1. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Complementary and alternative medicines.[online]  [Accessed on 12 December 2021] 
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Pain in multiple sclerosis [online]  [Accecssed on 12 December 2021] 
  3. NHS. Multiple Sclerosis [online] [Accessed on 12 december 2021] 
  4. Cleveland Clinic. Multiple Sclerosis[online]  [Accessed on 12 December 2021]
  5. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. 2014. Acupuncture and MS: The Basic Facts  [Accessed on 12 December 2021] 

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