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Pain can be sneaky. It can take a little detective work to figure out where the source of the pain is coming from. This is because the pain may be a symptom of another underlying issue.
Here's an example we are all familiar with. A 45-year old man stops talking mid-sentence and grabs his left arm in pain. What do you immediately think of? Heart attack?
Of course. Given that we've all been taught that a heart attack can cause symptoms in other places like the left arm or jaw. This is a prime example of the concept of referred pain.
Pain is one way our bodies communicate with us to let us know something is not right. Referred pain, in particular, is the disconnect between the source of the pain and where the pain is actually felt. Symptoms in one part of the body could actually be caused by a problem in another area of the body.
It can be challenging to decipher between the two - the symptom or the cause.
Doctors, physical therapists, and massage therapists know how to ask the right questions. They look for pathways of pain and try to uncover where the origin of the pain is coming from. This is because referred pain can stem from several different sources.
Pain can follow the nerve pathways of an affected area. Nerve pain has many different sensations including stabbing pain, tingling, or burning. An injured nerve can cause pain to radiate anywhere along the pathway of that nerve bundle.
For example, those suffering from sciatica (inflammation of the sciatic nerve in the hips) may feel pain in the back of their thigh or calf. This is because the pathway of the sciatic nerve also runs through those areas. To successfully treat the pain in the leg, the root cause must be addressed in the hips.
Pain can also be referred within a muscle or group of muscles. If a muscle is tight or injured in one area, it may put pressure on the entire muscle group.
In fact, Tom Meyers, author of the book Anatomy Trains suggests that it may not be your muscle at all. It could be your fascia. Fascia is a web of connective tissue that encases all muscles and entwines them together. This is why Meyers is a proponent of treating the whole body. He has an interesting perspective for viewing the muscles.
"While every anatomy lists around 600 separate muscles, it is more accurate to say that there is one muscle poured into six hundred pockets of the fascial webbing."
A common complaint is low back pain, especially in office workers. In fact, it's one of the top musculoskeletal disorders employers face. It's possible that there is an actual injury to the back muscles or disks. But it's also possible that the pain is stemming from somewhere else.
If we consider the biomechanics of sitting, we know that the psoas muscle (one of the hip flexors) shortens when the hips are bent at 90 degrees. Spending too much time like that can cause the psoas muscle to pull on the low back and create pain.
Treating the low back muscles only may not help because the root cause of the pain is not being addressed. However, treating the body as a whole to address muscle imbalances and flexibility, the low back pain may get better.
Another source of pain is compensatory pain. This is when one area in the body is placed under an unusual load or not working as it should. The rest of the body is trying to still get the job done, so it figures out a compensation pattern of movement. While it does work at the moment, it creates a problem in another part of the body that is seemingly unrelated.
For example, imagine that you broke your ankle and have to walk with crutches. Over time, your shoulders and wrists can get sore from the altered movement patterns. If you stop using the crutches, the pain in the shoulders and wrists will improve.
Another example is if you carry a baby on one hip for extended periods of time. Your spine will be out of alignment, and that could cause pain to pop up in your neck and shoulder on the opposite side.
A HOLISTIC APPROACH
No matter the source of the referred pain, the main thing to keep in mind is that everything is interconnected in the body. Treatments need to address the body as a whole so that pain can begin to unravel.
A common way to treat muscle pain is with massage. Even though a person may have a complaint in a specific area, massage therapists work the whole body. This is because muscles are connected via fascia. Releasing one fascia adhesion may very well lead to pain relief in another area.
A neck massage for a sore neck may feel good and temporarily ease pain. But a permanent solution needs to address the root cause. The same is true for mechanical massage chairs. They are becoming popular options for addressing pain at home or at work.
Credible massage chairs act like a physical therapist. They take a holistic approach, working on the entire structure of the body within a single session.
If you choose to go this route, be sure to choose a high-quality massage chair. Find one that has intelligent, intuitive massage choreography. Choreography is the sequence, timing, and location of the massage motions. It should address the whole body, at some level, in all programs. This is what will lead to continued healing and pain relief over time.
So don't let your pain fool you. Seek first to understand where it could be coming from. Then consider a treatment that addresses the body as a whole so you can unravel your source of the pain. #
(This article was also posted on LinkedIN here: