If you’re living with multiple sclerosis (MS), you are familiar with the common symptoms of the condition, such as vision problems, weak muscles, and balance issues. However, some MyMSTeam members report symptoms that are less obviously traceable to MS.
“For the past three weeks, it’s felt like something has been stuck between two of my toes,” one member wrote. “Has this happened to anyone else? Just wondering if this is MS-related.”
“I think I had this feeling at the onset of my MS,” another member replied. “Now it’s just a memory. It used to be very annoying. Praying you get over it soon.”
A third member wrote of their experience: “Yes! I thought it was just me! I thought I had a bit of cellophane or something stuck since it felt ‘crackly.’ That was around the time of my diagnosis some six years ago. It went away eventually, only to be replaced by numb toes and the feeling of my lower legs being gripped. That has moved on now, too. Almost every day brings a new surprise.”
The member then reflected on the unpredictable nature of dealing with MS: “As I have learned more about my condition, I know not to panic when these things crop up, but it was very scary at first. Take care of yourself.”
If you have recently noticed new symptoms, learning about different MS-related phenomena may help to put your mind at ease.
Feeling unusual sensations might be related to the nerve damage that comes with MS when your immune system attacks itself. The disease affects your central nervous system (your brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve), forming lesions on the myelin sheath, which is the coating that is supposed to protect your nerve cells. The resulting lesions (also called plaques) disrupt the electrical signals that your brain is trying to send to your muscles and nerves.
This process can lead to common symptoms of MS, like numbness, pain, and paresthesia. Paresthesia affects around 80 percent of people with MS. These abnormal sensations can include a prickling or tingling feeling, which can be uncomfortable to deal with, or even burning pain. The feeling of something between your toes is an example of paresthesia.
It can be confusing to experience a sensation that is outside of the ordinary. You might worry that there is something wrong with your body’s tissues in the affected area, whether that’s your big toe, forefoot, or spaces between your toes. However, when abnormal sensations are MS-related, the common causes are typically related to nerve damage rather than tissue damage.
Nerve damage might result in strange sensations, like the feeling of a pebble between your toes, because your brain may be unable to properly interpret signals from your muscles. Instead of feeling external stimuli, your brain might self-reference previous sensations it has felt, such as having something stuck between your toes, wetness, pain, prickling, or other sensations.
Specifically, the feeling of something between your toes could be a result of a condition called Morton’s neuroma (also known as intermetatarsal neuroma because of the area of your foot that is affected). With this condition, the nerves between your toes might become inflamed, leading to strange sensations.
It’s important to talk to your physician about these sensations because Morton’s neuroma can get worse over time.
Morton’s neuroma and MS sometimes have overlapping symptoms, making it hard to distinguish the two, or evaluate whether you may have both. It can also be harder for people to get a diagnosis because they may not recognize the signs as requiring distinct attention from the rest of their MS symptoms.
Risk factors for Morton’s neuroma include having flat feet, high arches, bunions, hammertoes, or congenital (from birth) foot problems. Other risk factors include being involved in sports or wearing shoes (like high heels) that put pressure on the balls of your feet or compress your toes. Morton’s neuroma can’t be found on an X-ray, but getting radiological tests could help rule out other possible causes of the odd sensation.
Altered sensations can be annoying or frustrating to deal with, particularly when you have other symptoms of MS that are affecting your quality of life. “I feel wet between my toes. It’s horrible!” said one MyMSTeam member. “Makes me absolutely bonkers!” wrote another.
If you think you may be experiencing altered sensations, you should talk to your neurologist. There are some treatments your doctor might suggest for your symptoms, although treating chronic (ongoing) altered sensations may be a difficult task.
In many cases, treatments may be similar to how other forms of nerve pain are treated. Your doctor might suggest medications such as gabapentin (Neurontin) or pregabalin (Lyrica), but medical advice may vary from doctor to doctor. Doctors might also suggest an over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen (or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) if the main issue is swelling and pain. Steroids are sometimes also an option.
If you’re specifically dealing with Morton’s neuroma, your doctor might also suggest orthotics, which are custom inserts you can put in your shoes to reduce discomfort. You may also be referred to a podiatrist if your doctor thinks your foot pain needs a specialist’s attention. Sometimes, physical therapy is an option.
A neurologist will also take into account your specific lifestyle factors, co-occurring health conditions, any supplements you are taking, and the trade-offs between potential treatment options and their side effects before making a recommendation for you.
If you have felt the sensation of something stuck between your toes, know that you are not alone.
MyMSTeam is the online 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 dealt with altered sensations or foot problems? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyMSTeam.