The MS Hug

What is the "MS Hug"?
The MS Hug, as it is called, (though it is not like any hug you could ever want) is technically a type of neuropathic pain classified as a type of paresthesia (felt in the chest and/or rib cage area. Basically you have tiny muscles between each rib (intercostal muscles) that help hold your rib cage together as you breath in and out as well as allow your torso to flex and bend; it is believed that a lesion in the spinal cord causes them to contract/spasm creating the sensation that your chest is caving in or the sensation that you are wearing a tight girdle (a girdle is kind of like a corset). This pain is usually felt in the chest but can reach down to your abdomen and sometimes around your back, but as always with MS, everyone is a little different. This can last from minutes, to hours, to days at a time often making it feel painful or difficult to breathe, even making you feel the need to vomit.

How to Treat the MS Hug

Sometimes the MS Hug can mean your having an exacerbation but the only way to know for sure is to see your neurologist who may want to get an MRI done before giving you a round of steroids. Other than that, there is not much that can be done except for simple exercises to help "manage" the pain or discomfort associated with the MS Hug. Everyone finds that something different may help them; here are a few examples:


Some people find relief from medication for spasticity such as Baclofen, Valium (diazapam), Ativan (lorazepam) or Xanaflex (tizanidine). Of course you can also try Neurontin (gabapentin) or Lyrica (pregabalin) but the results on those have not been impressive in my own experience and from what I have heard from others; talk to your neurologist!

My Personal Experience

My experience with the MS Hug was horrible in every which way the word "horrible" can imply. When I first encountered the hug I remember lying on my back with my legs propped up on a chair for hours. I felt like someone had parked a truck on my stomach! I felt it in my stomach and ribs mostly but I do recall it stretching around my sides towards my lower back. I wanted to throw up so bad that I could not eat; it was all just way too tight... At the time I was in far too much pain and misery to look up online what I could do to relieve the symptom so I just lied there and tried to get comfortable so I could sleep.

I have had it a few times after that but not nearly as bad... For me personally I just try to stretch my chest and ribs out with deep breathing and light stretching. So far medication has not done the trick for me so it's all up to non-medication symptom management. I am not sure if a warm shower or bath would help as I was pretty sensitive to even minor heat at the time but now I can tolerate a warm shower so if I ever deal with the hug again I might try that out. Painkillers like Norco did OK at simply masking the pain for a couple hours but that's all it did, mask it (what else do narcotics do?). Deep breathing and stretching worked best for me for certain!

Last Updated; July 26, 2014