I woke up one morning to a steady pounding on the right side of my rib cage, just under my armpit. Thump, thump, thump. Every few seconds. Like a heart beat. It didn’t hurt, but it was noticeable. A spasm. Constant. Every few seconds. I tried to feel it with my hand, to tell if my body was actually moving. I had my son put his hand on my side. He felt it.
It continued for the entire day. Every few seconds. Thump. A twitch of the muscle in my rib cage. Like when I was pregnant and my son would kick me or have the hiccups, except in my ribs, and a steady beat, all day long. What was happening?
I wasn’t worried. More curious. This had never happened before. Was it MS? Or not? I asked in an online forum, and several people told me MS was hugging me. This is an MS hug??
I’d heard about an MS hug. People described it as being squeezed tightly with a corset. Others described it as painful, like a heart attack. Some people had even gone to the ER, thinking they were having a heart attack. I’d also heard it makes it hard to breath. I didn’t feel like I was being squeezed or having a heart attack. I could breathe fine. It just felt like I was being punched, from the inside, in a steady, rhythmic, beat.
I did a little research, as usual. I learned that an MS hug is caused by muscle spasms in your ribs. You can feel it anywhere from your abdomen to your head. It can come on suddenly and stop quickly, or linger for long periods. It can be painful, or mildly irritating. They say MS is the snowflake disease because it affects everyone differently. Turns out, even the same symptom can affect people differently.
Once I realized that the MS hug was caused from muscle spasms, I understood my symptoms better. Sometimes I get spasms that feel like twitching or a punch. Other times, it’s a sharp, shooting pain. Most of the time, it’s a tight, achy feeling where my muscles are all tensed up and not releasing, similar to when you’ve spent a long day bent over in the garden or went a little too hard on back day at the gym. Occasionally, it can make it a little harder to breathe.
I would have never thought that any of these feelings were an MS hug. It didn’t feel like I hug or what I’d heard other people describe. But, when I explained my symptoms to my neurologist, she said it was an MS hug and suggested muscle relaxers.
One of my most common and persistent symptoms has been muscles spasms. Spasticity is muscle spasms, often in your legs, that can cause stiffness or pain. The MS hug is similar, but in your ribs. I deal with both almost daily. So far, it is mostly a mild, irritating discomfort. For some people, it can be very painful and effect their ability to walk.
I’ve only been dealing with MS for 9 months. I am able to work, drive, walk, and go about my life. Sometimes my legs are stiff and sore and I walk with a slight limp, especially if I’ve been sitting too long. Heat or stress can make it worse. Some days, I have twitching spasms. Other days, my back is tight and aching and it’s hard to stand for long periods of time. So, I may rest on the couch in the evening and skip the dishes. Or, not make plans on the weekends. But, for the most part, I am able to do all the things I need to do. Today, my legs are stiff and heavy and there’s a tight cramp in the lower side of my right rib cage. So I decided to stay home and listen to podcasts, drink coffee, and sit in the massage chair, rather than meet a friend.
If I can manage without medication, I should, right? Or, maybe that’s just dumb.