I was trying to explain to a friend of mine the other day just what it feels like to have a constant “itch” in my ankles…their eyes glazed over and I watched the second eyelid close on their toad-like stare. It was immediately apparent my friend just didn’t “get it”. I suppose in their defense, unless you’ve “had it” you probably wouldn’t “get it”.
Paresthesia in Multiple Sclerosis is very common, occurring in an estimated 87% of people with MS at some point during the course of their disease. If you’ve got MS, you’ve probably experienced a paresthesia of one sort or another. The word paresthesia describes a number of abnormal sensations just about anywhere in the body. These include tingling, prickling, pins and needles, electrical-type buzzing, burning, skin crawling, itching, partial numbness (like feeling through cloth) and a variety of neuropathic pains.
“Normal” people experience a common paresthesia also when they trap nerves in their limbs by sitting badly. The resulting numbness and pins and needles resolve soon after the nerve is released…you will hear these non-diseased folks refer to their foot (or various other body parts) falling asleep. This common event CAN happen to Msers, too…it is such a horrible feeling of tingling/prickling sensation when your foot falls asleep and you try to move or stand on it too soon!
Chronic paresthesias in Msers are often because of a misfiring between the brain/spinal cord and the peripheral nerves (the nerves of the extremities). These feelings of numbness, tingling, and prickling, etc., normally affect the hands, feet, arms and legs, but can occur in other parts of the body as well. The sensations are often very difficult to explain and occur without warning. Sometimes the sensations involve an uncomfortable pain, but generally are usually just an uncomfortable sensation. The sensation can be constant or intermittent…my “itch” in my ankles is pretty much constant.
I have learned to not even START scratching my ankles in response to this sensation…after all, there’s nothing there really TO scratch! The feeling isn’t coming from my skin. Its origin is deep within my nerves and my fingertips will never reach the source. There are a couple of things I HAVE learned to do to combat the sensation, however.
I try never to wear shoes that rub on my ankles. Why agitate an already “nervous” area of my body? Sometimes even socks can bother my ankles, so I’m careful of the weight and material of my stockings. Another helpful remedy I have found is ice. If the itching sensation becomes just too annoying, a cold ice pack will sometimes numb the area and the nerves enough to interrupt the signal from my dysfunctional brain.
Beyond these two helpful hints, I’ve found my only relief at times is simply “mind over matter”…if I try not to mind it too much, the itching matters less! I’ve found that if I draw my attention to this sensation, it feels much worse.
OK…I’ll admit it. Just sitting here typing about my itchy ankles has caused me to want to scratch them! It’s time to move on to a different topic now and distract myself…perhaps I’ll go tend my bees…