Eight unconventional ways to manage MS pain

Whether it’s nerve pain, temperature sensitivity, spasticity, injuries, or even emotional distress, MS can hurt.

If you have pain caused by MS, chances are you already know that medication isn’t always enough to take the edge off. The good news is, there are some strategies that can help.

Manage fear

Pain can be scary. It’s designed to be. When no amount of over-the-counter medication could control how much it hurt to move my left eye, I freaked out. And thank goodness, because the pain was telling me (and my doctor) that I had optic neuritis and that I needed urgent care.

But fear can make pain worse, and much of my MS pain is sounding the alarm when there isn’t anything actually on fire. Once I’ve determined that I’m not, in fact, bleeding out or missing a limb, I tell my brain...

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I’ve looked into it, and I’m safe. Please move on to something more useful, like reminding me to pay my credit card on time or where I left my keys.

When you’re first diagnosed with MS it can be hard to tell which symptoms need medical attention, so always talk to your doctor or MS clinic nurse until you get to know what to expect from your MS.

Prioritize activities

If you feel zen with a clean house, then by all means, use your energy to tidy-up the kitchen. But if going for coffee with your bestie is more valuable, know that the dishes can wait. Rank activities from most to least important and do high value activities first. Priorities change from day to day, and when pain is more manageable, tackle the activities that are lower on your list. Because the dishes eventually have to get done.

Plan for pain

Organize a pain Go-Bag with things like a heating pad, a cozy blanket, your medication, a favourite treat or tea, a scented candle, and the book that never lets you down. You don’t want to have to go looking for comfort items once pain has taken over.

Reward the bad days

If I have to have a lumbar puncture or a cystoscopy, you’d better believe I’m gonna treat myself to a new lipstick, an iced-coffee, or a stack of gossip magazines. Give yourself permission to be self-indulgent on days when MS gives you a particularly hard time.

Communicate your needs

Pain is more painful when unmet expectations lead to conflict and resentment. Be clear about your needs and limitations and resist the temptation to downplay symptoms. Powering through and overdoing it can lead to even more pain and unnecessary recovery days.

Pick a neutral time before you’re in pain to make plans everyone feels comfortable with. When I make a commitment, it’s always with an escape clause in case I need to bail at the last minute. Remember, you are not unreliable–MS is unpredictable.

Listen to your body

Pay attention to early warning signs, like headaches, increased fatigue, or a sudden change in mood. Give yourself permission to rest and stop what you’re doing, before you lose strength and energy.

Stop apologizing

Feelings of guilt can make pain worse, and apologizing for things that are beyond your control reinforces a harmful message that you are somehow responsible for your pain. MS isn’t your fault. Be as gentle with yourself as you would be with someone you love.

Have a mantra

When pain is so intense I can’t even focus on my Instagram feed, I know it’s time to bust out a mantra I can repeat until the pain passes. ‘It won’t always be like this’ and ‘I can do hard things’ are two of my faves. Figure out the words you need to tell yourself when you’re just trying to survive minute to minute.

The takeaway

Chronic pain is a reality for many people with MS, but that doesn’t mean you have to grin and bear it. If pain is impacting your quality of life, there are ways to manage and minimize discomfort.

Talk to your doctor and/or consider asking for a referral to a pain management specialist. Knowing others who live with MS pain reminds me that I’m not alone. Try connecting with people who can relate, share their own strategies, and offer the kind of emotional support that can only come from someone who gets it.

Ardra Shephard is the writer behind the award-winning MS blog, Tripping On Air and the host of a new Canadian television show, Fashion Dis (spring, 2022).

Instagram: @ms_trippingonair

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This article provides general information and discussions about health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, website or in any linked materials are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.