Numbness and Tingling With MS

Why multiple sclerosis causes these common symptoms and how you can cope

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Numbness and tingling with multiple sclerosis (MS) can happen anywhere in your body and are two of the most common symptoms of the disease. Some describe the abnormal sensations as a pins-and-needles or itching feeling, or note that they interfere with use of the affected area.

These symptoms can happen whether or not your MS is progressing. Still, they can impact your quality of life, though they are usually not as disabling as the motor symptoms of MS.

This article describes the numbness, tingling, and other abnormal sensations you may experience if you have MS, including how they may feel and the effects they can have in certain parts of the body. It also explains why they occur and what you can do to treat them and cope.

What MS Tingling and Numbness Feel Like

Most people have felt the sensation of an arm or leg “falling asleep.” That is similar in MS, except that it’s chronic, can last much longer, and it may happen in other parts of your body besides your arms, legs, hands, and feet.

Numbness and tingling are two of the most frequent MS symptoms for which people seek medical care. They are part of a group of sensory symptoms called paresthesias—abnormal sensations that cause discomfort.

Though numbness and tingling are the terms people most often use to describe these sensations, other descriptors of paresthesias can include:

  • Pins and needles
  • Tickling
  • Itching
  • Prickling
  • The affected area feels cold
  • Difficulty using the affected area
  • Buzzing
  • Bugs crawling on or under the skin

Sensory symptoms can last for just a little while and then go away (transient) or can last for a long time. They tend to be worse at night and when you’re hot.

Each person has their own individual pattern of sensory disturbances in MS that can include numbness, tingling, or any of the other sensations associated with paresthesias.

Sensory symptoms do not always mean you are have an MS relapse. However, if your numbness and tingling are new, severe, worsening, and/or lasting longer than 24 hours, you may be. See your provider. 


While some sensory symptoms cause only mild discomfort or are just annoying, others can be painful. 

Dysesthesia is a type of MS sensory symptom that can cause pain. An example is feeling like your feet are burning.

Some people with MS also have allodynia, which is feeling pain when you’re touched by things that don’t normally cause pain, such as your clothes or a friendly stroke of your arm.

Location and Effects of Abnormal Sensations

The problems caused by numbness and tingling with MS can depend on where these sensations are felt.

For example, if your feet are affected, you may have problems walking because it hurts to put pressure on your feet, your coordination and balance are off, and your ability to sense the position of the parts of your body (proprioception) isn’t as it should be.

When your hands are affected, you may have problems with writing, fine-motor movements, or holding objects.

Sensory issues in the genitalia, especially numbness, can cause sexual dysfunction.

Paresthesias of your tongue or face can make it difficult for you to talk, eat, drink, or sense the temperature of your food.

And not surprisingly, abnormal sensations affecting any part of your body can significantly disturb sleep, either causing you to wake up through the night or have a hard time getting comfortable enough to drift off.

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Why Does MS Cause Numbness and Tingling?

Sensory symptoms in MS are caused by lesions on your brain and/or spinal cord. These are the result of demyelination, or damage to covering of the nerve fibers that carry sensory information from your body to your central nerve system (brain and spinal cord).

Often, these sensory disturbances occur as part of a temporary increase in symptoms caused by an external factor (pseudo-exacerbation). This could be something like MS-related heat intolerance or fatigue.

If this is the case, the sensation should go away or at least get a lot better once you’re cool and/or rested.

Treatment for Numbness and Tingling in MS

Drug-free options are typically first used to help reduce numbness and tingling in MS. While medications may be used in some cases, they are not always useful.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Some people get relief from numbness, tingling, and other sensory symptoms by using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approaches, such as:

  • Reflexology: With this therapeutic technique, a practitioner presses on certain points on your hands and feet to promote healing.
  • Acupuncture: This treatment involves inserting thin needles into your skin to relieve pain. Since acupuncture can stimulate your immune system (an undesirable outcome since MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease), talk to your healthcare provider before you try it.
  • Biofeedback: This treatment helps reduce your stress level and may ease numbness and tingling.
  • Diet changes: Some people with MS feel that certain foods trigger symptoms or make them worse. Work with a dietitian to figure out if there are any foods that exacerbate your symptoms and come up with an eating plan to minimize them.
  • Supplements: Low levels of vitamin B12, a deficiency that’s more common in people with MS, could cause sensory symptoms. However, research on the link between vitamin B12 and MS has not reached a firm conclusion. Ask your provider about getting your B12 level checked and whether you should try taking a supplement.


There has been limited success in treating MS-related numbness and tingling with medication. Drugs are usually considered a last resort.

If no other strategies are providing you with relief, ask your healthcare provider if one of these medications might be an option worth trying:

  • Neurontin (gabapentin)
  • Elavil (amitriptyline)
  • Cymbalta (duloxetine)

If numbness and tingling significantly disturb your sleep, you may need to talk to your healthcare provider about a sleep aid or a specific treatment for paresthesia.

Like all medications, these drugs have side effects and risks to consider. However, if your numbness and tingling is really interfering with your quality of life, they might be worth trying. 

If you see your provider about a suspected relapse and one is confirmed with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), they will probably put you on a course of Solu-Medrol.

Coping With MS Numbness and Tingling

There are some management techniques that may reduce or even prevent numbness and tingling if you have MS, as well as help you deal with these symptoms when they do occur. These include relaxation, temperature regulation, avoid triggers, and other strategies.

Coping With Numbness and Tingling in Multiple Sclerosis
Verywell / JR Bee 

Find Ways to Relax

Your sensory symptoms will likely get worse when you’re stressed. In fact, just thinking about a stressful situation might be enough to ratchet up the tingling in your feet.

Try taking a break from your stress and let yourself relax. If you can find time to turn off that part of your brain that has you worried about finances, wondering how you’re going to get everything done, or replaying an angry conversation, your symptoms may back down a little.

One strategy is doing a mini-meditation. Rather than an in-depth meditation, just take one or two minutes in the middle of a stressful period to close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and focus your thoughts on your breathing.

Alternatively, do something that you love for at least a couple of minutes every day. Listen to a podcast or your favorite song. Read a couple of pages in a fun novel. Have a cup of tea. Go for a walk around the block. Carving out a little time for self-care every day can help you manage your anxiety.

Warm Up or Cool Down

Sometimes, your feet can get too hot or cold, especially at night. Temperature extremes are often accompanied by a burning or tingling sensation.


3 Women Share Their Experiences Managing MS in the Cold

To warm up your feet, try a wrap that’s filled with rice or beans that you can heat up in the microwave and put on any body part that’s chilly. You can put one on your feet and one over your shoulders. You can also stick your feet in hot water. Wearing thick socks to bed helps, too. 

Cooling down burning feet is a little trickier. The solution might be something simple, like sticking your feet outside the sheets when you’re in bed, standing on cool bathroom tiles, or putting a cold, wet washcloth on your head.

Find Your Triggers and Avoid Them

Pay attention to what things seem to trigger your symptoms and try to avoid them.

For instance, if getting overheated from exercise triggers your leg numbness, try walking in an air-conditioned gym instead of outdoors, or consider wearing a cooling vest.

Get Moving

A 2016 study looked at the effect of exercise on MS symptoms in 54 females. The participants were assigned to either a non-exercise group, a yoga group, or an aquatic activity group.

The researchers found that participation in either yoga or aquatic activities three times a week for eight weeks had a positive impact on common MS symptoms, specifically depression, fatigue, and paresthesia.

The researchers think that paresthesia symptoms may have indirectly improved because the patients had decreased symptoms of depression rather than from the exercise itself.

Still, the study does suggest that exercise programs can be a complementary addition to MS treatment programs.


3 MS Patients Share Their Experiences Facing Mobility Challenges

Take Precautions

Take precautions when you feel numbness and tingling in areas of your body that could cause safety issues.

For instance, if you have facial numbness, be careful when you’re chewing food and drinking hot beverages so you don’t bite the inside of your mouth or tongue or burn yourself.

If you’re feeling paresthesias in your hands or feet, be careful not to engage in any activity in which you might lose your grip or fall down and injure yourself. If possible, try to relax until the sensations pass.


Numbness and tingling are common symptoms of MS—in fact, they can be the first symptoms that someone has that lead to a diagnosis.

While these and other sensory symptoms can be uncomfortable or distracting, they’re not as concerning as other MS symptoms like a loss of vision, falling, or balance problems.

If you’re not finding relief or the sensations are getting worse and affecting your quality of life, talk to your provider.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Julie Stachowiak, PhD
Julie Stachowiak, PhD, is the author of the Multiple Sclerosis Manifesto, the winner of the 2009 ForeWord Book of the Year Award, Health Category.