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Tingling, crawling, burning or prickling in the skin. What IS going on here?

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Person holding their leg

Every month our information team gets asked hundreds of questions relating to MS, via phone, email, letters and social media. A large portion of these are about having strange sensations such as pins and needles, numbness and crawling.

To help to explain these odd feelings the information team has put together this blog, to answer the question, what is really going on here?

People with multiple sclerosis (MS) often experience strange sensations in the skin. They can be really hard to describe and feel downright weird.

Some of the more common feelings include:

  • Pins and needles
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Crawling
  • Prickling
  • Burning

Sometimes this doesn’t describe it well enough and people might say:

  • It’s like insects crawling over me
  • It’s like something is squeezing me really  tightly
  • It feels like I am bleeding but I’m not

The science bit

Although it feels like something is going on in the skin, it is really due to damage to the nerves caused by MS. The brain can’t interpret the signals it is receiving as it is outside its experience. To deal with this, it tries to relate it to something the body has experienced before like being squeezed or burnt. Alternatively, it may relate it to something that it can imagine.

These uncomfortable, altered sensations are known as dysaesthesia. The usual treatments are those for neuropathic pain like amitripylinegabapentin or pregabalin. Sometimes imipramine or nortriptyline are used.

What can I tell people?

The feelings can be downright weird. As they are difficult to explain, people can hesitate to mention them. You can imagine the scene first thing in the morning:

“Darling, I felt like cockroaches or ants were crawling over my arm last night.”
[long pause…..]
“Well, I didn’t see anything!”

These unusual feelings are one of the invisible symptoms of MS. They are very real to the person who is experiencing them but no-one else may be aware of them.

Have you experienced something like this? How would you describe what you felt? Did others think it was strange? What tips do you have for living with these kinds of symptoms? 

Worried that you might have MS?

You may think that these symptoms are similar to those that you are experiencing although you do not have a diagnosis of MS. However, these symptoms don’t only occur in MS but can have any of a number of causes. You can read more about how to get the correct diagnosis.

Jane, Information Officer

Living with MS?

Over 100,000 people in the UK live with MS. No two people experience exactly the same symptoms. But no one need deal with MS alone. At the MS Trust we offer free, practical, evidence-based information to make living with MS a little easier.We’re online, on the phone and in print with the right information at the right time for you.

If you have a question about MS
• give us a call on 0800 032 38 39
• email us at infoteam@mstrust.org.uk
• or visit our Introduction to MS for much more information.