Written by MasterHealth Staff
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MS hugs occur in roughly 15-20% of people living with MS, causing an uncomfortable or painful ‘girdling’ sensation either around the entire rib cage or only on one side.
This symptom may appear as an initial MS symptom leading to a diagnosis, or it may occur later in the course of the disease.
The MS hug is caused by impaired communication between nerve cells causing spasms of the muscles between your ribs, or altered sensations in the body.
Different factors can trigger the onset of MS symptoms for different people. Most commonly, symptoms are triggered by increased inflammation within the body, whether through diet, inadequate sleep, lack of movement, or illness.
Most people describe the MS hug as a feeling of tightness or restriction, as though a python has wrapped itself around your rib cage. It can also be described as burning, crushing, tickling, or sharp.
The MS hug can range in pain from mildly uncomfortable to extremely painful. It may also cause feelings of shortness of breath which can be confused for a panic attack or a heart attack.
MS hug symptoms can range from person to person. Stephen comments, “I have the MS hug in the form of chest pain … It happens above and to the left of where my heart is. I’ve talked to others where they felt like it was harder to breathe and some say it felt like a belt was tight around their waist. So there are different forms of the MS hug apparently.”
Like any type of MS flare up, the MS hug can last anywhere from seconds or minutes to much longer. MS community members have shared that by remaining calm, they’ve been able to reduce the severity of the experience.
By taking the right steps to reduce inflammation and remain calm, you can begin to find relief and shorten the duration of the MS hug.
Once you find out that your symptoms are caused by the MS hug, there’s nothing to worry about. These symptoms usually go away within a short time, and are simply the result of nerve miscommunication causing spasms or altered sensations.
However, because the symptoms of the MS hug can resemble life-threatening conditions, like a heart attack, it’s best to seek medical attention right away, especially if you experience shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea/vomiting, dizziness, or an irregular heartbeat.
Try your best to describe the full details of your experience to your doctor and any other symptoms you have to get a more accurate diagnosis.
Calming and reducing the severity of MS hugs involves reducing inflammation, providing relief of symptoms, and breathing slowly to remain calm.
Reducing inflammation is an important step long-term because it can calm the immune system and the occurrence of MS flare ups including the MS hug.
The Wahls Protocol® guides you along some of the following steps and keeps you consistent in your habits so you can find long-term relief of symptoms:
- Eliminating inflammatory foods, such as processed or refined foods, refined sugars and sweeteners, dairy, gluten, and any food sensitivities.
- Increase circulation of blood and lymphatic fluid through exercise, dry brushing, warm or cold compresses (alone or alternating), the use of vibration plates, and/or stretching.
- Relaxation through mindfulness and gratitude practice, increased social connection, and/or community involvement.
- Reduce nerve irritation & muscle tension by stretching, practicing gentle yoga, epsom salts bath, or physiotherapy and electrical stimulation therapy.
- 8-9 hours of good quality sleep, and going to sleep by 10pm.
- Detoxification of inflammatory pollutants through the use of herbs and spices.
- Reduce irritation by wearing loose or tight clothing.
“For me, it’s so debilitating I literally go into the fetal position and can’t move. And for a long time I used to be worried about when it would strike. But what’s important to understand is what your triggers are for your MS hug, so if there’s a particular thing that causes your ms hug, only through trial and error will you start to see trends.”
“The first time it happened to me, I thought I was having a heart attack…the pain that’s associated with this and the onset is so fast, it’s like bam it just happens. There’s no warning. If I hadn’t had a lot of rest and I’m under a lot of stress, those two things are a deadly combination… And what happens is this sets on and then you panic and you can’t breathe,… and then you can actually start to breathe a little bit and it eventually just kind of passes… The longest one I’ve had was probably that first one because I kept hyperventilating and panicking, and I had it probably for a couple minutes. Eventually … i got another one, and then i realized ok hopefully … this isn’t a heart attack, this is actually the ms hug again. I can go through and I know what to do now, because if I calm myself down … I can breathe, and my throat opened up more… I started to breathe easier. I’ve had numerous MS hugs since then and I’ve actually been speaking to people and had an MS hug, I just keep talking and calm myself down. When I’m speaking, I take that breath and slow myself down while I’m speaking.”
“All the sudden, I sat down and it felt like someone pushed on my stomach. I was out of breath. … I had never had the MS hug before, at least I didn’t think I had…It was tightening, I felt like my abdomen was kind of constricting, and a little bit of a shooting pain but not much… I had trouble breathing.”
“It’s a weird sensation, where it feels like somebody is literally like casper is putting you in a bear hug and you cannot get him off. That gives me anxiety, that was a very weird feeling, I’ve never experienced that before. At first, i’m thinking like … is this bra too small … it was weird!”
The MS hug is a somewhat common symptom of MS caused by muscle spasms or altered sensations around the ribs.
These girdle-like sensations can range from mildly uncomfortable to extremely painful, causing shortness of breath which can often increase panic.
They can be relieved using techniques which reduce inflammation in the body.
To get started on the right foot in setting habits that reduce inflammation, The Wahls Protocol mobile program is a fantastic place to start.
You’ll get your own personalized plan with guidance from Dr. Wahls’ best practices, recommendations of the key habits you should include in your daily routine, and suggested starting points for those habits.
Within the program, you’ll also find a community of others following the protocol and a coach to help keep you consistent with your health goals so you can start feeling better, faster!