What's with the strange tingling, crawling, burning and prickling feelings?

17 October 2022

We get a lot of questions from people with multiple sclerosis (MS) experiencing some very peculiar sensations in their skin.

You can get them pretty much anywhere, and sometimes it is hard to pinpoint exactly how they feel. They might sound too weird for words, yet they are all too real to you.

You may have one of many sensations, with the most common being:

  • pins and needles
  • numbness
  • tingling
  • crawling
  • prickling
  • burning.

And then there are these...

  • insects crawling over you
  • being squeezed tightly
  • the feeling of blood or water trickling down your skin

So, what on earth is going on?

To start with, you can put away the creams and lotions. It has got nothing to do with your skin.

It’s due to nerve damage in the brain and spinal cord caused by your MS. The brain can’t work out the signals it's receiving, so interprets them as sensations your body has felt before, like being squeezed or burnt. Or it latches onto something you can imagine, such as ants walking up your leg.

These uncomfortable, sometimes painful, altered sensations are called allodynia, dysaesthesia or paraesthesia, depending on your symptoms.

Are they treatable?

There are several ways to manage these altered sensations including medication for neuropathic pain like amitripyline, gabapentin or pregabalin.

Other options are more practical. The brain is a curious thing and often reacts to a rational response. Take the wind. If this triggers sensations, make sure you cover these areas of skin on a blowy day.

Trickery can also help. Wear gloves if your hands are tingling to give your brain a logical explanation or use distraction to keep your mind busy elsewhere.

Over time you’ll discover what (if anything) triggers your sensations, and how best to ease them. There is no one solution. Often it is a case of trial and error to suss out what works for you.

For more tips, take a look at our MS symptoms and diagnosis page. Here you will find ways to cope with MS symptoms including numbness and sex-related issues, as well as exercise and relaxation advice.

What's next?

If you know that you have MS and these are new symptoms, it’s best to speak to your MS nurse. Know that altered sensations are a common hidden symptom of MS, no matter how strange they may sound. Your MS nurse will help advise on the right treatment.

For those reading this without an MS diagnosis, your sensations do not automatically mean you have multiple sclerosis. These symptoms can have other causes. But it’s also true that altered sensations can be an early sign of MS. To find out what is going on, it is worth booking an appointment with your doctor to get your symptoms checked out.

If you are worried that you may have MS, do visit our website and read more on MS and its early signs. And remember, if you need us, we are here to help.

How we help

We offer free, practical, evidence-based information to make living with MS a little easier. We are online, on the phone and in print with the right information at the right time for you:

Or visit MS: the facts for more information.

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