MS Hug

The Backpod: Lie back and treat yourself

The MS hug is a fairly common symptom with multiple sclerosis. It’s also known as banding or girdling, and feels like a constricting band round the chest. It can also be painful, sometimes sharply so, and can make breathing difficult.

It’s explained by neurologists as caused by the MS attack on the myelin sheaths around your nerve fibres - and that probably is where it starts from. The explanation given is that the nerves trigger a tightening spasm of the intercostal muscles between your ribs.

But hang on a minute - there’s a tendency to blame every ill you get purely on the MS; you may have noticed that. Also these specialists are indeed experts on the nerves, but they’re not experts on some practical musculoskeletal implications. We are.

MS hugs cause rib joints to tighten: When you’ve had MS hugs for months or years, the rib joints where your ribs hinge onto your spine can also get tight and eventually stop moving. This is unsurprising - the MS muscle spasm limits the rib cage movement, so the rib joints involved in that movement will also tighten and seize up.

When that happens, you get breathing difficulties, because you can’t fill your lungs fully if you can’t expand your rib cage fully, and you can’t do that if some of the rib joints won’t move. You usually also get some pain round the back at the tight rib joints, in your middle back area and under your shoulder blades.

Costochondritis with MS: You can also get a much sharper, scarier pain round the front where your ribs hinge onto your breastbone. This is usually called costochondritis or Tietze’s Syndrome. It’s not actually a “mysterious inflammation” as part of your MS, but is just the rib joints on your breastbone straining and giving to compensate for the rib joints round the back not moving at all. This is explained in detail on our COSTOCHONDRITIS page, and so is how we fix it.

There’s a simple home test for these tight rib joints. Just sit squarely back on a bench or desk and get someone to hold your shoulders and rotate your torso round to both sides. You should be able to twist round 90˚, with your shoulders coming into line with your thighs. You can still be tight on the rib joints even if you can do this okay, but you’re definitely tight if you can’t.

Painful or tight joints can readily trigger a reflex protective muscle spasm around themselves, in people without MS. So it’s likely that this happens more readily in patients with MS. Tight rib joints could certainly be a main trigger of the MS hug itself.

Lastly, hunching spines and tight rib cages are immensely common anyway, even without MS - see our iHUNCH page. So your upper back and neck pain, headache and breathing difficulties could all be from this - not every symptom you get is purely from your MS.

Release the tight rib cage joints on a Backpod: As far as we can tell, the Backpod is the only thing around that will do a really effective job on quietly stretching free tight joints around your back. It also comes with a simple home program of strengthening and stretching exercises, home massage and posture to pull you back towards perfect posture. We can’t fix your MS itself, but we can help a great deal with these effects from the MS hug.