For many years, the medical world considered MS to be a pain free condition. This idea has now been completely overturned and studies suggest that the majority of people with MS experience some form of pain as a symptom at some stage.
There are two main types of pain in MS.
Muscle pain (called nociceptive pain or musculoskeletal pain) is generated by damage to the muscles, tendons, ligaments and soft tissue of the body.
This is the sort of pain that is felt when someone falls over or cuts themselves. In MS, this pain is not caused directly by damage to the nerves but develops as a result of other symptoms. For instance, spasticity in a leg can cause someone to alter the way they walk or alter their posture, which can result in added strain on the back or legs or arms.
Pain that results from damage to nerves is known as neurogenic or nerve pain. With this type of pain, nerve messages are interrupted or blocked and the brain interprets the incomplete information it is receiving as pain. Whilst the pain experienced can be severe or long lasting, unlike muscle pain, there is no physical cause of the symptom.
Examples of nerve pain include:
Paraesthesia or dysaesthesia
Persistent, uncomfortable, abnormal sensations. The pins and needles effect is an example of paraesthesia, but other sensations can include burning and crawling feelings, numbness and tightness.
Sometimes referred to as the Barber Chair phenomenon, this is caused by damage to the spinal cord in the neck. Movements of the neck cause a short lasting but sharp, painful, buzzing, electric shock feeling running down the spine and into the legs.
The trigeminal nerve controls movements and sensation in the face and mouth. Damage to this nerve at the point where it meets the central nervous system at the base of the brain can lead to episodes of sharp pain in the face triggered by actions such as talking, chewing, smiling or brushing teeth.
- More information from the MS Trust
- Pain factsheet
Next page - Diagnosis