#019: Sensory disturbances in MS – from waddling to electricity shocks

Episode 19 is about the variety of sensitivity disorders that people with multiple sclerosis can get. Have you already experienced sensory disturbances? If so, no wonder. They are one of the most common symptoms of MS and often occur early in the disease. For some, in retrospect, they were there for some time before diagnosis. But often a change in stimulus perception is not enough to get to the bottom of the matter.

In the following article, you will learn more about the different types of sensitivity disorders and how you can deal with them.

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Table of Contents

When do sensory disturbances occur?

Often already at the beginning. In relapsing MS, they disappear after some time.

If your central nervous system has already had to repair and compensate for a lot, the sensations may be permanent. That’s why MS specialists recommend starting a disease-modifying therapy quickly. This can slow down or even stop multiple sclerosis.

What are the types of sensitivity disorders?

First, a distinction is made between two types. There are paraesthesias, which occur without an external trigger.

In addition, normal stimuli can be passed on incorrectly from the outside and range from unpleasant to painful.

All parts of the body can be affected, especially arms and legs and thus also feet and hands.

Sensory disturbances range from numbness to tingling, as with carbonic acid, to the feeling of ants running over the skin.

On the torso, there is often the feeling of a wide belt that one thinks is around the waist or torso, even though there is nothing there.

There is also the feeling as if one’s own body is under a layer of foam or absorbent cotton, because pressure arrives only muffled.

In Lhermitte’s sign, it feels as if electrical impulses are running through the body starting from the head down the arms and legs every time you tilt your head. This can be uncomfortable or disgusting, but also painful.

You may also feel that an object you are touching is hot or cold, even though it is at a perfectly normal temperature.

Or you feel pain when someone touches you in certain places. These can be larger or smaller areas of skin.

In addition, there are sensory disturbances that misrepresent the movements, vibrations and positioning of your body. These disturbances can have a negative effect on your movements.

I myself have experienced sensory disturbances for one arm and the corresponding quadrant of the torso. It felt like I had a thick layer of foam.

The belt feeling around the waist and a general decreased sensation throughout the body is something I have also experienced.

And the Lhermitte’s sign was more intriguingly gross than painful for me. All symptoms subsided after several weeks to months.

What can you do about sensitivity problems?

First, you should inform your neurologist if the sensation is new, as it may be part of a relapse and further testing is needed to clarify.

If you already know the symptoms from the past, temporary triggers come into question. Are you currently suffering from stress? Is your body overheated (fever, high outside temperatures, sports activity)? In this case, the symptoms may subside if you relax and let your body cool down to normal temperature.

If after 24 hours you still feel new or different, for example more intense, contact your neurologist or if you have your MS nurse.

How can occupational therapy and physical therapy help?

There are really a lot of options. Talk to your neurologist if occupational or physical therapy is an option for you.

Occupational Therapy

If you take in less stimuli, there are a lot of ways to stimulate and train your nerves.

Most of the time, occupational therapy is the right place for you. Baths with warm or cold grains or stones can be very pleasant to grasp.

In a parafin bath, a multi-layered structure is placed around your hands or feet by repeated immersion, thus transporting a pleasant warmth to the depths.

But these are only a few examples from a variety of offers of occupational therapy.


Physical therapy focuses more on your muscles, associated connective tissue and stretching.

Specific exercises, massages and movements can help you get rid of symptoms faster. Often, the exercises can be done at home without problems or require few aids.

Continue to train on your own, then you will achieve the best results, as long as there is no risk of injury.

Perhaps alternating baths or an ice treatment will also help you.

What can you do by yourself against sensory disturbances?

If you have skin sensitivity problems, you can help desensitize yourself. Try it out a bit. Walk barefoot over different surfaces or touch several textures, depending on which part of the body is affected.

During the warmer months, an excursion into nature is a good idea. Be it the park around the corner, your own garden or further away. Stones, earth, tree bark, metal, water, leaves, needles from trees, small branches, and moss. There is so much to feel and touch during a walk.

Or you can use the objects in your home: carpet, wood, the shoe scraper, tiles, a towel, the prongs of a fork, different vases, warm candle wax, wool, denim.

Be creative, but please do not hurt yourself in the process.

Another aspect is relaxation. Try to be more aware of your body and your feelings. Meditation, yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi can help you.

During periods of sensitivity problems, I tended to choose slower, but precise sports and movements. In this way, I avoided injuries and still exposed my body to new stimuli. I walked barefoot on the beach of the North Sea and tried to feel the cold water and the sand exactly. I refrained from jogging. I preferred conscious yoga exercises to badminton.

Try it out and see what works for you. In any case, don’t focus all your attention on the discomfort, it will only intensify it. Try to distract yourself with pleasant experiences, be it a good story, music, time with your loved ones or a hobby.

If you have trouble falling asleep, progressive muscle relaxation can help. A course will make it easier for you to get started. But you can also simply take advantage of a free offer.

What medications are available for sensitivity disorders?

Your neurologist knows best when medication is necessary and useful and when it is not. He is the expert.

Cortisone treatment is often not necessary for an episode that only triggers sensations, if you can still cope with everyday life.

If you suffer from permanent pain, antidepressants and antiepileptic drugs are often used.

And what if the sensory disturbances are permanent?

Then tell the people around you if touching you hurts or is uncomfortable. That way they can be aware of it.

And always remember, you determine where your attention goes. More focus means more pain or discomfort. Try to accept the condition, yet continue to work on desensitization. Focus your attention on the good and beautiful in life. I know it’s not always easy, but the more you work on it with meditation, thought travel, and relaxation techniques, the more the symptom will fade into the background.

Laughter helps, but so does sinking into something that excites you and brings you joy. In the so-called flow, everything else becomes secondary and loses intensity and importance.

If possible, avoid the triggers for discomfort. But don’t adopt unhealthy relieving postures. And continue to perform movements correctly.

What is the best prevention against sensation disorders?

That you find the right disease-modifying therapy that stops MS or at least slows it down.

In addition, you can contribute a lot to a gentle course with a healthy lifestyle. Eat a balanced diet. Exercise regularly. Drink little alcohol. Make sure you have a stable psyche and address any problems that exist there. Avoid nicotine and other addictive substances as much as possible. And always look for new mental stimulation.

Food for thought

Try ice bathing or the mild version in the form of cold showers. If cold is a problem, take advantage of the gentle warmth of mud packs, bio saunas or thermal baths. Be creative and find your way.

Question to you

Have you ever had sensory disturbances? And if so, what has helped you?

See you soon and try to make the best out of your life,

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Nele Handwerker

Blogger & Patient Advocate

I show you how to make the best of your life with MS from family to career to hobbies. Thanks to science and research, a lot is possible nowadays.

Nele Handwerker


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