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Reviewed by Executive Manager Client Engagement and Wellbeing Jodi Haartsen. Jodi is a registered MS Nurse Consultant with 20 years’ experience at Eastern Health MS service in Australia

When you touch something with your hand or another part of your body, your brain interprets the signal sent from where you touch, through your spinal cord and to the brain where that message is processed to be the sensation you feel.

In people with multiple sclerosis, damaged nerves in the spinal cord and brain can cause disruptions to these pathways and result in abnormal sensations, or in some people, no sensation at all, which is often described as numbness.

MS numbness

Altered sensations can occur in any part of the body in people living with MS and are a common symptom of MS. The most likely places they occur is the face, hands, arms, feet and legs.

Altered sensations could include feelings of pins and needles, burning, itching, electric zaps and shocks, numbness, tingling, crawling, stabbing, pricking and increased sensitivity. This is often called paresthesia. Paraesthesia, can also be called allodynia (pain or altered sensation to touch), or dysesthesia.

Lhermitte’s sign is another sensory symptom that feels like a tingle or an electrical shock sensation occurring when the neck is flexed in 55–70% of patients with MS. The sensation will often extend from the neck to the spine and in some patients to the limbs.

Numbness can be caused by different medical conditions, and it may not be clear the numbness is directly related to your MS. Your medical team will diagnose your numbness based on your symptoms, other medical history and a physical exam, which includes testing touch, temperature, reflexes and muscle function.

How is numbness diagnosed?

It may be hard to describe the sensations you're experiencing but your MS nurse or neurologist will be able to help. To understand the cause and type of your numbness, the doctor or nurse will ask about how the numbness started, where it is numb on your body and how quickly the numbness began, the events or activities you were engaged in around the time the numbness began, and if you have any other symptoms.

Tests to help establish the diagnosis may include:

  • Blood tests to look for signs of conditions including diabetes, kidney disorders and vitamin deficiencies.
  • Medical imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans or MRIs to look for issues affecting the nerves of the brain and spinal cord.
  • Nerve conduction studies. In this test, electrodes are place over the nerves to be studied and the muscle supplied by the nerve. A brief electric pulse is sent to the nerve. The test determines if the nerve transmitted the signal properly and at normal speed. If not, this is a sign of nerve injury or damage.

Ways numbness impacts daily life

Numbness is a distressing type of sensory symptom and can have a dramatic impact on a person’s emotional wellbeing and quality of life. There are many ways numbness can impact a person’s ability to do daily activities. Some examples include:

  • Not being able to write or use keypads on phones and computers due to numbness of the hands or fingers.
  • Being unable to feel hot and cold water due to numbness anywhere on the body, causing injury and harm.
  • Not being aware of contact with dangerous chemicals, bugs, bites or infections or sores.
  • Feeling unaware of body parts, such as having difficulty walking or falling due to being unable to feel the position of your feet.
  • Facial numbness can impact a person’s eating and chewing.

How long does MS numbness last?

Altered sensation may come and go with relapses. The symptoms may last for hours, to weeks or be a lifetime symptom. It may get worse during heat or other factors that can impact MS symptoms.

If you’re experiencing new or concerning symptoms of altered sensation such as numbness, seek professional support from your GP (general practitioner) or MS nurse as soon as possible.

They can work with you to help understand what is causing the altered sensation and help with treatments when it causes pain or discomfort such as medications, allied health support and lifestyle changes.

Other conditions that can cause altered sensation and numbness

  • Diabetes
  • Rare infections such as HIV or Lyme disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Medications or drug use
  • Exposure to poisons/toxins
  • Stroke
  • Arthritis
  • Tumors
  • Animal or insect bites
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Toothaches
  • Back and neck problems
  • Anemia
  • Vitamin deficiencies.

Your doctor will help determine what’s causing your altered sensation and the best course of action.

Ways to treat and manage MS numbness or altered sensation

Altered sensations, particularly when they cause pain, can be difficult to manage. It commonly requires a holistic team effort. Management can include lifestyle changes, medication, or allied health support.

What can trigger MS numbness?

  • Avoid triggers, such as heat, cold, wind, touch and tight clothing.
  • Try to remain at a comfortable temperature (overheating can lead to numbness and other sensory symptoms).
  • Ensure you’re sleeping enough to avoid fatigue .
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Stay calm and practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing. Altered sensation could get worse when you’re stressed.

If you do feel any altered sensation in your body, be cautious and careful. Since you’ve temporarily lost some sensation in that area, be mindful of touching or eating hot things, losing your grip or falling down.


  1. Christogianni A, Bibb R, Davis SL, Jay O, Barnett M, Evangelou N, Filingeri D. Temperature sensitivity in multiple sclerosis: An overview of its impact on sensory and cognitive symptoms. Temperature (Austin). 2018 Sep 5;5(3):208-223. doi: 10.1080/23328940.2018.1475831. PMID: 30377640; PMCID: PMC6205043.
  2. Fox, Robert & Bacon, Tamar & Chamot, Eric & Salter, Amber & Cutter, Gary & Kalina, Jennifer & Kister, Ilya. (2015). Prevalence of multiple sclerosis symptoms across lifespan: data from the NARCOMS Registry. Neurodegenerative disease management. 5. 3-10. 10.2217/nmt.15.55.

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