Multiple Sclerosis and Chronic Pain

By Steve Dechan

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating disease where the immune system attacks the protective layer around nerve fibres. Totally incurable, those affected endure numbness and in severe cases, even paralysis. In all, it reduces average life expectancy by as much as 10 years.

One of the common symptoms of MS is intense pain. Sometimes, this can be passing. However, in many situations, the pain is chronic, and affects people for the rest of their lives.

There are three main ways in which MS causes pain.

The first is through the nerve damage that takes place during the inflammation that is characteristic of MS. In the most serious cases, this means even physically placing your hand on someone with MS can be exceedingly painful to them.

The second is when the aforementioned damage happens specifically to motor neurones, resulting in regular, uncontrollable and highly painful spasms. Motor neurone damage has also been linked to joint pain and lower back pain.

The third is when MS causes body parts to be immobile, leading patients to strain their functional muscles in an attempt to compensate.

Often, patients can experience more than one of these types of pain, which only highlights the need for a strategy that strikes at the mechanisms behind pain itself.

In addition, one of the main treatments used for MS, fingolimod, has also been known to cause chronic pain as a side effect. As a result, even those who are undergoing successful symptomatic treatment for multiple sclerosis can benefit immensely from an effective approach towards chronic pain.

Multiple sclerosis inflicts the most severe suffering on those unfortunate enough to be affected. If we can do anything to alleviate their agony, we have a duty to. The NHS should consequently take active steps to ensure that a variety of pain remedies are available to MS patients.