Pain From Within – Why Pain Isn’t Always A Strain or Sprain
Did you know that you don’t always have to strain a muscle or sprain a ligament in order to feel pain? Deep inside your body are the cogs that keep your body ticking over… your organs. We have lots of organs inside us: The heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, and more. Well, did you know that when something goes wrong with these organs, they can also give you pain? To add to this, sometimes that pain is felt in a completely different part of the body than where the organ is located! This can lure you in to thinking that something is wrong with that body part when really there isn’t. Sounds silly right? Let us explain further…
In scientific terms, we are referring to a phenomenon called “viscero-somatic pain” or a “viscero-somatic reflex”. ‘Viscero’ refers to ‘organ’ and ‘somatic’ refers to ‘body part’. So, by definition, viscero-somatic pain is pain that comes from an organ that is felt in a specific body part. And for each organ, there is a specific body part or parts that you will generally feel the pain in. It all comes down to how the body is wired in the nervous system. We’ll give you an example to make this a little clearer…
When someone has a heart attack, the classic symptom is chest pain (although not always). However, they will often experience other symptoms such as left-sided neck, jaw, shoulder and arm pain. The reason for this is when the heart muscle becomes devoid of oxygen from a blocked artery, a nerve signal is sent to the spinal cord and up towards the brain to alert the brain that something is wrong. At the same level of the spinal cord where those heart signals enter, there are also other nerves entering that relate directly to the muscles and skin from the neck, jaw, shoulder and arm. The theory is that the brain cannot distinguish where the problem is coming from, due to the close proximity of the nerves in the spinal cord, and therefore you may feel pain in both the chest and in these other areas. It’s pretty crazy right?!
A problem with the liver or gallbladder can give pain symptoms in the abdomen and also in the right shoulder. It’s for the same reason as above, but just a slightly different wiring for that organ.
As an Osteopath, we will be looking for certain signs and symptoms if we suspect this might be happening with you. These might include:
- Pain that is deep, diffuse and difficult to localise
- Pain that is difficult to reproduce in the clinic room
- Changes in the skin, such as sweating, dryness, redness or changes in sensation
- Changes in the muscles, such as spasm or rigidity
- Pain which is unaffected by activity or rest
We’ll also be very interested in your medical history and will ask you questions to see if you have a history of digestive, breathing or urinary issues (this depends of course on the organ we suspect may be the issue). There may be a few sensitive questions we need to ask, so please do not be offended if we dig deep. It’s all to ensure we get to the root cause of your issue. Some of our treatment may also be aimed at affecting the target organ itself. We’ll be sure to talk you through any treatment techniques before we perform them. Rest assured, if we feel you need to be seen by a GP or specialist, we’ll point you in the right direction to ensure you are in capable hands.
- Chila, A. 2011. Foundations of Osteopathic Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
- Sikander, S. and Dickenson, A. 2012. Visceral pain – the ins and outs, the ups and downs. Current Opinion Support Palliative Care. 6 (1). 17-26. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3272481/pdf/ukmss-40443.pdf
The Importance of Movement
arent or sibling), then we start to get rudimentary use of our upper limbs, then we learn to lift our head and role onto our stomach, and now we can use our arms to push ourselves up and our neck muscles to support our head. Then we start to get stability in our trunk muscles so that we can sit and start to reach out, and then we are crawling, toddling and eventually running.
In other words we go through a sequence of learning where we move with increasing complexity, from simple reflexes to the ability to stabilise ourselves against gravity and then the ability to perform complex volitional activity such as eating or running.
This means that if we need to restore movement, say after an injury or an illness, we need to think in terms of this hierarchy, reflexes - stability - complex movement.
Humans are unique in that we have a complex postural system that enables us to stand upright on two unstable pins, that's why it takes us three years to learn to walk efficiently. But it is under constant stress and it's ability to perform this task starts to deteriorate as we age unless we take steps to keep it in top condition.
In research published in Queensland: Falling is not just for older women: support for pre-emptive prevention intervention before 60 (J.C Nitz and N.L Low Choy 2008), the researchers assessed women between the ages of 40 and 80 for the risk of falling. 8% of women in their forties, 14% in their 50s, 25% in their 60s and 40% in their 70s had fallen in the previous 12 months. In addition, the risk of falling increased significantly if the woman had other health problems.
Their conclusions was that for women over 40 years old, the number of illnesses increase the risk of falling and the risks increased still further if they were over 60. Preventative program participation aimed at maintaining good health appears vital to prevent falls.
To put it another way, our stability starts to drop in our 40's. Falls are a natural consequence of reduced stability but they are not the only consequence. The early consequences are less efficient use of posture which leads to stiffness and back pain.
So, in order to perform any meaningful activity, we must first be stable. Stability is really the ability to maintain balance while we shift our weight. When it starts to drop it means that we have less ability to generate momentum to move forwards. And if we are unable to generate as much momentum, then our step gets shorter, and if our step gets really short we require a stick to help support ourselves. Thus our ability to move becomes compromised.
So as we get older we get stiffer and less stable, which leads to weight bearing changes. It also leads to restriction in movement. It's important therefore to not only keep mobile but also work on keeping yourself stable. Exercise that can help this includes dance, yoga and Tai Chi. It is also important to work on your posture. Posture is basically how well you control your relationship to the ground and how efficiently you are able to shift your weight in order to generate momentum.
Perfect Posture Program
If you want to lean more about posture and how to keep yourself mobile and pain free, then we have an educational program that maybe for you. Our Perfect Posture Program has been developed from 25 years of rehabilitation of chronic back pain, and 10 years of measuring balance and analysing posture with computerised posturography. The purpose of the program is to teach you how your postural system works, so that you can use it in any situation, whether you are standing at a meeting, sitting at your desk or putting your child in the back of the car. This six week program is suitable for anyone who wishes to improve their posture from children aged eight and above, right through to seniors.
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