If you’re living with multiple sclerosis (MS) and you experience mysterious leg pain, you’re not alone. “What does it mean if I have leg pain that feels like a bruise, but no bruising is evident?” one MyMSTeam member asked.
Multiple sclerosis is a neurological condition that can send random and painful messages between the brain and the body — sometimes for no external reason. While MS is best known for causing muscle spasticity, tingling, chronic pain, the “MS hug,” numbness, and fatigue, it also causes people to experience paresthesia — altered sensations.
Read on to better understand the “invisible bruise” sensation and how to tell if you’re experiencing paresthesia.
Many members of MyMSTeam have described painful paresthesia, like burning, shocking, and stabbing sensations. They might arrive out of the blue, or they could be triggered by an outside factor. One type of paresthesia is called allodynia, which is a pain caused by something that does not normally create pain — like a rough fabric or a light touch. Another type of paresthesia is called dysesthesia, meaning a painful abnormal sensation that usually occurs in the legs or abdomen of people with MS.
One member discussed the invisible bruise sensation: “I noticed about a week ago that my lower legs around my calf are sore to the touch,” they explained. “The best way I can describe it is the type of pain you feel when you’ve bumped into something and get a really bad bruise. But I don’t remember bumping into anything, and my skin isn’t bruised at all!”
Others explained the same phenomenon further. “I experience leg pain in the same area! Sometimes it is almost like the start of a charley horse — but my legs and feet are always in pain!” One member described it as “tender to the touch and tender to pressure.” Another suggested, “I recognize that tender-to-the-touch, slight pain you speak of. Could it be swelling? That’s what it is with me.”
Leg pain in MS may occur for many reasons, and everyone experiences it differently. The next time you experience pain, ask yourself the following:
This information can help you uncover patterns in your paresthesia and take steps to prevent and manage it.
Common descriptions of paresthesia include feelings of:
Most of the time, these sensations aren’t triggered by anything in your environment, so you will not see any signs of what is causing your discomfort. Whether it’s an invisible bruise or the feeling of something crawling on your skin, these sensations can be disturbing. However, just knowing that paresthesia is a common MS symptom can help you better deal with it in the future.
There are several reasons why someone with MS might experience feelings of soreness, pressure, or pain in their legs and feet. As a disease of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves, MS disrupts the messages sent between your brain and body.
MS damages the myelin (protective layer) around each nerve cell — a process called demyelination. Like live wires without a rubber coating, demyelinated nerves may be more prone to picking up and sending random signals to the brain. Your brain cannot distinguish these abnormal signals from more familiar outside sensations, such as the feeling of having a bruise.
One study found that half of people living with MS experience some — not necessarily painful — abnormal sensations. Researchers have found this was true whether individuals had an early, mild form of MS or if they had more severe MS.
There are ways to reduce the effect these altered sensations can have on your life.
Paresthesia is more likely to arise during an MS flare, when MS nerve damage shows its greatest effects. One member said, “I experience leg pain when my MS starts to act up.”
Speak to your doctor about all of your MS symptoms, including specific altered sensations. It may be hard for you to tell the true cause of your leg pain. As one MyMSTeam member suggested, “I would advise only medical opinion because all cases are different.”
By sharing new symptom information with your neurologist, you and your health care team can adapt your treatment plan to your unique needs.
The treatment you’re currently using for MS may also treat your paresthesia. Your doctor may recommend other medications that can reduce these altered sensations. Treatments that can help to treat MS flares, including pain and paresthesia, include:
Using hot or cold packs can bring temporary relief for uncomfortable altered sensations. At the very least, an external stimulus may help distract you from nerve pain until it goes away.
If you suspect your pain could be linked to swelling, compression socks may help. “My primary care provider had me start wearing them for my leg pain, and it made a big difference for me,” wrote one MyMSTeam member. “They even made me feel a little less fatigued.”
Consider practicing mindfulness meditation, a physical and psychological technique that has been linked to a greater awareness and control over one’s physical sensations.
Physical activity has also been shown to reduce MS paresthesia. One MyMSTeam member suggested light exercise to counteract stiffness and pain in the legs: “My leg pain was caused from inactivity and constant sitting, so my circulation was limited and blood settled in my lower legs.”
Research studies have confirmed the benefits of exercise for MS pain relief. Physical activity reduces paresthesia, as well as many other symptoms, for people with MS.
Mental health problems have been linked to worse MS symptoms. Don’t hesitate to seek out counseling — it’s important to have your experiences validated as you face this chronic condition. In one study, researchers found that cognitive behavioral therapy — a form of talk therapy — provided long-term improvements in MS pain and symptom severity, as well as quality of life.
If you’re experiencing an unusual symptom while living with MS, it’s likely that others have had a similar experience. One member said, “It’s all totally normal! It happens to most of us, promise!”
Speak with your doctor if you’re experiencing uncomfortable or painful sensations. They can provide guidance and possibly treatments to help. If you’re part of an online support community like MyMSTeam, you can also reach out for support and tips from others who’ve faced this common MS symptom.
MyMSTeam is the social network for people with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 193,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.
Have you experienced sore legs while living with MS? Have you spoken to a health care provider about painful sensations? What advice do you have for other people living with MS? Share your tips and experiences in a comment below or on MyMSTeam.