Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Hug

MS can make your chest tighten. Let’s tighten up on ways to fix that.

The MS hug is a type of abnormal sensation or pain, which is often described as a tight sensation around the chest. It can feel like someone is squeezing or hugging you tightly, which is where the term ‘MS hug’ comes from.

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Before I knew the term ‘MS Hug’, I used to explain that I felt like I was wearing an invisible corset that I couldn’t take off!


Living with MS since 2006

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One of my best friends often experiences the MS hug when she has a relapse and she said it can be quite painful. She often gets treated with steroids to reduce inflammation. Apparently, it’s quite hard to breathe and the muscles between your ribs feel very tight.


Living with MS since 2016

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The MS Hug only happens for me during a relapse. If I am experiencing this sensation, it’s an indication that I’m having a relapse and need to contact my neurologist.


Living with MS since 2006

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If you’ve never felt an MS hug before it can be quite alarming, but it usually comes on quick and lasts only for a short amount of time.

If you experience chest pains, you should report these to your doctor to rule out other conditions and talk about how to best manage it.  

The MS hug is caused by spasms in the tiny muscles between the ribs. This happens when nerve damage caused by MS interrupts communication between the brain and the muscles, which can give your chest muscles an incorrect signal to tighten.

Similar symptoms to the MS hug have also been seen in other inflammatory conditions that cause damage to nerves in the spinal cord, so talk to your doctor so other causes can be ruled out. 

Ways to ease pain during an MS hug

There are several things you can try to help relieve the feelings of an MS hug when it strikes. Everyone is different, so you may need to experiment to find out which methods work best for you. Examples include:

  • Wearing tight OR loose clothing: for some people, tight clothing like a close-fitting top can trick the body into feeling pressure rather than pain. For others, wearing loose clothing can help ease the discomfort of the MS hug, so experiment to see what method works best for you.
  • Apply a hot or cold compress: applying a compress to your chest (or wherever you feel pain from the MS hug) can help relieve pain. Be aware that for some people heat might make the feeling worse, so experiment to see what works for you.
  • Apply pressure: you may find it helps to press on the painful area with the palm of your hand.
  • Move, stretch or change position: you might find that when the MS hug happens, shifting to a more comfortable position can feel better. For example, some people find that lying down or propping themselves up with pillows can help.

Ways to help with an MS hug over the long-term

There are also some steps you can take to help manage your MS hug over the long term. These are things you can do over time that can make the feelings of an MS hug less uncomfortable and easier to cope with:

  • Exercise: this can help with lots of MS symptoms, including an MS hug. It can strengthen your muscles and make it easier to deal with the pain. Exercises that might help include walking, swimming and yoga.
  • Relaxation: relaxation techniques can help reduce physical tension and take the edge off your muscle pain. Taking time to unwind and destress (e.g. by reading, seeing friends and family, getting fresh air outside) can also help with ongoing pain.
  • Mindfulness and talking therapies: these can help reduce tension and change the way you think about pain. This is based on the idea that your thoughts and feelings are connected to how you feel physically.
  • Physiotherapy: a physiotherapist can give you exercises that make it easier to cope with the pain associated with MS symptoms such as an MS hug.
  • Complementary therapies: some people find that things like acupuncture can help with their pain. However, these therapies are not part of mainstream medicine and more research is needed to confirm how well these work.
  • Medical devices: TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) is a type of treatment where a device gently stimulates your nerves through your skin. Some people find that it helps relieve pain and discomfort.

Everybody’s experience of the MS hug is different, so your management plan will need to be tailored to you. Try some of these different approaches and speak to your healthcare team to find what might work best for you.


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