In practice, it may feel anything but friendly, cuddly, comforting or gentle. It’s a tight feeling, usually around your chest but sometimes around your hand, foot or head. It may feel so tight around the chest that you feel like it’s a bit difficult to breathe. Sometimes, it can squeeze you really hard and not let go in a hurry.

The MS hug is quite a common symptom of MS but is not well known, especially to people who have just been diagnosed. It’s probably worth being aware of the possibility so that you are not taken by surprise if this symptom happens to you. It is also known as banding or girdling.

The science bit

There may be a couple of different things going on here depending on what you are experiencing. The feeling of tightness around your chest can be due to spasms in the intercostal muscles between your ribs. Some people also get feelings of aching, stabbing, crawling or pins and needles. This is a kind of dysaesthesia (meaning “not normal sensation”) and is classed, medically, as a kind of pain. As with most things in MS, it’s all due to nerve damage.

Open Door

What can I do?

So what should you do if you get a band of tightness around your chest? First, think whether is it definitely due to your MS? Any chest pain has to be taken seriously just in case it has a cause that needs immediate medical attention like heart problems. Get checked out ASAP.

Secondly, relax and breath. This is easy to say but sometimes hard to do if you are being squeezed round the chest! However, it’s worth trying as being tensed up won’t help. Also, the symptoms usually pass without treatment so try and sit it out as comfortably as possible.

Some people find that a warm bath or heat pad helps. Drug treatments are available if the hug is really persistent, including those often used for other forms of dysaesthesia.

Wear a hat!

I’m not joking. Many people say that the best way to deal with the MS hug is to distract the brain from puzzling over the feeling of tightness. Although you can’t get rid of the tight feeling, giving the brain a good reason for the feeling can stop it focussing on the odd sensation and worrying about it. So, if it’s your head that has the MS hug, wear a hat! If it’s your chest, you could wear a close fitting top. Gloves, socks or boots may help with tight feelings in the hands or feet. However, some people say that wearing really loose clothing is better – give it a try and find out what’s best for you.

What helps with the MS hug?

“I found tight pressure was, weirdly, the best way to relieve it. I wrap a scarf tightly around where I feel the band of tightness.” – Claire
“Hot water helps me: boil it and drink plain once it’s not too hot.” – Subodha
“Some people say it is worse when they are fatigued, like many other symptoms.” – Nicki, MS nurse
“Sometimes changing position helps. Move around and see if it improves.” – Sarah and Jennie, MS nurses
“Tell your neurologist or MS nurse so they can discuss a management plan if it were to happen again.”– Lou, MS nurse
“Some people find wearing loose clothing helps, also distraction techniques. One patient finds using a TENS machine beneficial.”– Lesley, MS nurse
“Breathing exercises, yoga, distraction, a hot water bottle and a mild analgesia all can help. Also try to remember that it won’t last too long.” – Janice, MS nurse
“I always try to avoid medication where possible so I suggest tricks such as distraction, keeping mobile where possible, hot or cold packs, massage or loose clothes.”– Belinda, neurologist

What are relaxation and distraction techniques and how can you use them?

Many people find distraction and relaxation techniques useful to manage their pain. Relaxation can decrease stress and muscle tension which might exacerbate the pain. This might involve tensing and relaxing your muscle groups in turn, or using slow, rhythmic breathing exercises.
Distraction means turning your attention to something other than the pain. Distractions can be internal, such as counting, singing to yourself or praying, or they can be external, such as reading, needlework, model building, or painting. Listening to music can also be a good distraction method.

Have you experienced the MS hug? Tell us what it was like for you. Have you got any good tips for managing it? You can write your comments in the box below.

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I have experienced pain like heart attacks several times in the last few months. I was diagnosed with MS December 2014. I thought it was a torn muscle, but couldn't think how it had happened. I had had similar pain on at least 2 separate occasions & ECG's showed no problem with my heart. I don't like these hugs. Living with MS is new & an ongoing process.

I have had the MS hug now for quite a dew months or more. It has been around my lower torso area. It gets worse when I have been doing too muuch around the house/walking too far etc. Do not want to take the medication as been on too much over the last 7 years which did not help.
I have had MS for 35 years plus, and the recent bout of symptoms may have been due to the failing health and death of my Mother. The symptoms are not what I call painful, so will continue to manage myself. Jenny

I'm only 15 years old, but around 2014, I started having MS symptoms. Anywho, even though my doctors haven't exactly diagnosed me yet, I feel a tight band around my chest everyday and it's hard to breathe. I personally think it's the MS hug... But I'm not sure! Anyway, I know that that wasn't a huge story ,but I feel like crap every single day 24-7 so I was NOT about to write a long comment!

I have had this hug for almost a year. It gets mild at times especially if I have had a good nights sleep. However, it is always there. I have heard botox can relieve it for a while. I was wondering if anyone has tried botox.
I can handle the rest of this TM as long as I can calm this hug down a little.
Mike

ms hug i have had it over two weeks how long dose it last?

Hi Louise,
Like all MS symptoms it can be very variable. If it has lasted for a while and you're finding it bothersome there may be treatments that could help. However, there could also be other causes for tightness around your chest so really worth mentioning to your MS specialist nurse.

I have had the Hug since lat spring so it will be a year in a couple of months. It was so strange to begin with the staff at my local A&E thought I was having a heart attack.
Months later I was diagnosed with MS and the Hug has been with me since. I have started to take Amitriptyline for nerve pain in my legs and feet and it takes the edge of the hug but it is there all the waking hours! I have got used to it now it has changed the shape of my torso, the muscles are so tight over or between my ribs that I am now narrower in this region - quite odd.

I am experiencing the MS hug now as we speak. I was diagnosed with MS 2 years ago at the age of 26. I cannot wear bras at times when it's really bad and as we speak I am sitting at work with a hot water bottle to sooth the pain. It's the tightest hug ever and very unpleasant. It's most uncomfortable when we are not so busy in the office so I do believe distractions help hugely as it helps me forget the pain for a moment here and there.

Louise - The length of time with the HUG varies. 2 weeks ago I thought I overcome it until the next time but today it has arrived again with a horrible tightness around my bandwidth. It's on and off continuously :( K x

MS hug no not at all-I get extreme pain in my lower legs and I can,t straighten. Some one pulling your legsis the only way this pain goes away

Would a RITMSCENAR
Help the patient. I would appreciate any advice and help

Would a RITMSCENAR help patients

Marlene, I can find no research that has looked at the use of a RITMSCENAR in treating the MS hug. 

The MS hugs I have are the most painful thing I've ever experienced I. My life . Extremely painful at time I can't catch my breath !! I have treated the hug with 3 or 4 medications and sometimes doesn't work. All my doctors are fully aware of my dilemma. Best thing that helps is exercise. I have an aerobics machine or sit ups. My pain is extreme and ittook 5 doctorsto finally diagnos. M My problem

I have secondary progressive MS with relapses. For six months now on a regular basis I have experienced MS hug but didn't know it was that, mainly diaphragm, intercostals and head. If I grow my hair it is worse, I now have a number 5 at the barbers. Along with trigeminal neuralgia it is sometimes so disabling. I use hot water bottles, heat pads to try an avoid medication. I have tried them all.
I am getting it several times a week at present.

I was just diagnosed and waiting for medication. I'm 52 and thinking back I have had "mild" MS for years. Tingling fingertips, stiff hand, just enough to know that this isn't just your hand falling asleep but buying into ' You probably just have a pinched nerve. In hindsight I wish I could warn anyone with these symptoms to run to the doctor to find out the cause. Because of my age I attributed my lack of bladder control to 'menopause' but one day as I was sitting at my desk at work and couldn't feel my legs, I knew it had to be more than just a pinched nerve or menopause. Went to my primary care doctor and after blood test I was told I had severe vitamin D deficiency. After being placed on Vitamin D (the prescription kind), we assumed that that had been the problem. If I could tell anyone out there to not ever shrug off anything that doesn't "feel" right and to be your own advocate, I would feel that I have done something right. Hindsight is always 20/20 and had I just taken the minor symptoms seriously I could have been placed on medication much sooner and my symptoms would probably not be so severe now. I am experiencing the MS hug right now and it is an odd feeling, in essence just a tight feeling around your back to your chest. My symptoms escalated so fast and of course with lots of research I was pretty much able to diagnose myself but of course tests are necessary to officially diagnose you and I am truly shocked as to how long it takes for a lot of people to get that diagnosis. I was luckier than most people and it took no time at all after a MRI showed lesions on my brain and a lumbar puncture confirmed that I had two obligoclonal bands present in my spinal fluid. Now for some quick info, helpful i hope: if you have these bands present in your spinal fluid and also your blood, you could have any autoimmune disease that exist but if you have these obligoclonal bands 'only' in your spinal fluid but not in your blood, it is pretty much a forgone conclusion that you have MS. My dr was actually kind if impressed that I presented her with that knowledge. Small solace but if you are determined to get to the bottom of what is wrong with you, then it is always helpful to have as much information as you can. At this point I am praying that I have the relapsing MS and not the progressive MS for obvious reasons. Good luck to anyone out there reading this right now because to have MS really sucks with all of the different challenges but it is still better than a fatal disease. May God bless us all and give us the strength to fight this ugly disease.

I was dx'd with primary progressive ms in 2005. The first time i had the hug it lasted 3 months in 2012. Since 2013 to the present (2016) ive had it daily. Some days its not as tight,others its horrible. Ive had it around my waist,up my chest,and sometimes around my neck. It is truly a most hideous ms symptom. For myself,it makes eating food uncomfortable at times. For when its around my waist i feel like my gut is going to explode. Today i have tender spots around my ribcage. It sucks for sure.

I have had MS for over 30 years now and can usually keep it under control. I have been getting the Hugs frequently lately, last night had a nice one that woke me from a dead sleep. This time I had bad jaw pain with it..really thought I was having a heart attack! Got up and walked around for a bit and it eased enough that I could go back to bed.

I have had MS for 23 years and been at A&E twice with suspected heart attack because of MS hug. The pain was excruciating & accompanied by pins & needles down my arm. Cardiologist pointed out it was due to MS. Never thought such intense pain was "Hug". Sounds such a nice, cosy word but it's not at all when it's happening. Now I get a tight band around my lower spine up to my waist every morning which wakes me up. Usually stress related so I must do more yoga!

Hi, 4 years ago I had pins and needles in one side of my face. I had an MRI scan and it found 4 areas of white matter on the brain. I was told that if I experience further symptoms, I may be diagnosed with MS. Anyway, all has been fine since. However, 6 days ago I suddenly had a sharp aching pain in my chest. I'm 35 and knew it shouldn't be heart problems. I sat it out and thought that was it. Yet over the last 6 days it has got worse. This morning I felt paralyzed as I didn't have the strength to get out of bed. Once I was up and after a lot of pain, it was painful putting on socks and getting dressed. I will go and see the doctor but does this sound like an MS symptom or am I panicking and adding 2 and 2 together and coming up with 5? Opinions appreciated thanks

i was diagnosed 14 years ago. The only pain I've ever had was muscle spasms.
Last week I went to ER with terrible radiating pain, spasmotic, radiating, stabbing.
The doctor kept asking me where the pain was. All over, but when he pressed anywhere, it didn't hurt.
Then I said, "I'm having a heart attack." EKG normal. No resolve for pain.
I ended up in the hospital, because of a complications from Cat Scan Dye.
I researched the MS Hug. It is a week now, and miserable. Can't even be a passenger in the car.

I was diagnosed with MS three weeks ago. My first symptom occurred after visiting the dentist to have a crown fitted on my rear tooth. I was given local anastitic in my lower gum, however for weeks after I didn't regain full feeling in my tongue, gum and cheek. Dentist said it was probably bruising in the gum which was affecting a nerve and would clear up by itself. A week later I lost movement on the left side of my face and went A&E and diagnosed with Bells Palsy. Put on a course of anti biotics and steroids which cleared it up in 2 weeks. Two weeks after this my visions my vision became hazy on and off for a couple of days and then developed double vision. Went to eye hospital A&E, my right eye was off slightly by 20degrees but they could not see a cause after thorough examination and tests. They said it was week right eye muscle and would correct itself. Was referred to the eye hospital neurologist, did basic eye tests which seemed fine but then asked me to walk heel to toe which I could do but not as easily as usual, then asked me to do same with my eyes closed and to my surprise I couldn't manage more than two steps before loosing my balance. He down played this and said it was normal??.... Said for good measure was sending me for MRI scan to ensure no swelling on the brain but didn't expect there to be. Got scan about three to four weeks later in between this time started to get a real bad itching on my right palm, felt like I could had scratched the skin right off my palm as it was so irritating and abnormal. Went to GP who was dismissive and said it was due to tennis elbow which I got from gym about 6 months ago and just prescribed elbow support?? 3weeks later went back to eye hospital neurologist, MRI showed legions on brain and spine (neck area) he is 98% certain it is MS. I am also sure it is as am experiencing symptoms getting worse when I get hot (numb legs, poor balance, double vision gets worse), In the last week or two my right rib cage feels numb I think it may be MS hug? I record a letter confirming appointment to see MS neurologist but 2months from now in August. Have chased and phoned to get this brought forward, just so worrying that my symptoms seem to be getting worse and the appointment is so far away!!

I am currently in hospital after experiencing chest pain (some stabbing to the left of the chest and a tight band crushing sensation above my rib cage) feeling very breathless even when resting my whole body just feeling like it wasn't in sync almost as if I had experienced some type of shock. I experienced a ms hug 3 years ago and recognised the same symptoms this time. Last attack lasted for 4 months. One thing you must do though is get the necessary checks to your heart and the potential of blood clots, as the symptoms are very similar. Thank you to everyone who has posted on here to share your experiences it is nice to know your not alone I also feel some reassurance that this time it may not last for 4 months as even though some state it went on for longer some say not as long! I've always been one to focus on the positive. Good luck everyone in fighting this, stay positive! X

Please can anyone help ? I have not been diagnosed as having m.s but I am experiencing the hug symptoms. However mine is at night, once I have been asleep for a while the tightness around my chest wakes me up, I try to change position or sit up but the pain and the spasms are so bad I cry. I'm waiting for xrays to be done, but do you think I should ask for any other tests ? Xx

Hi Emma

Sorry to hear this is causing you so much discomfort.  The key thing is that you are getting this checked out to see what might be causing this pain at night time. 

 

We have some information for people who are worried they may have MS www.mstrust.org.uk/understanding-ms/diagnosing-ms/worried-you-have-ms and some information on how MS is diagnosed https://www.mstrust.org.uk/a-z/diagnosis.

 

If the current tests and Xrays are unable to explain what’s causing the pains in your chest, it would be quite reasonable to ask what further tests or treatments your medical team can suggest to identify the source of the pain.  One of the main tests for MS is an MRI scan https://www.mstrust.org.uk/a-z/magnetic-resonance-imaging-mri

 

Janice, Information Team

 

I was diagnosed this past weekend, after 4 days in the hospital due to numbness and tingling in my lower body. as well have had the "MS HUG" symptoms for about 8 months not knowing what it was. Glad to know what it is now. However emotionally upset over this, and trying to get over the "shock" . Neurology appt not for 4 weeks. thanks for the comments, i am using the heating pad for the "hug" this is so darn uncomfortable and painful.

This MS hug is horrible! I've never had it this bad. Before I had the tightness around my chest and back making it difficult to breathe. Now the spasms in my stomach and back muscles are excruciating. I feel pins in needles as well as stabbing pains in my stomach area as well as numbness. I hate that we all have gone through these similar symptoms but it really helps that people can relate to what I'm going through. I am praying for you all.