Pain and soreness can be felt all over the body. Sometimes it can be felt as a sharp, shooting pain, and other times it may just feel like a dull ache. While you may feel pain in the hips, knees, arms, feet, or other areas of the body, it is not always safe to assume that the pain is actually being caused by that specific body part. In fact, back problems and spinal injuries can actually cause pain to arise all over the body.
Pain Arcs and Nerve Pathways
Each and every body part in the body is connected to the brain through a series of nerves. These nerves allow the body to communicate stimuli to the brain based on sensations of touch, temperature, pain, and more. Then, the brain is able to take these stimuli, process them, and send orders back to these body parts to elicit a response. These responses can be in the form of reflexes, other muscle contractions, or to regulate various body processes.
Each of these nerves has to go through the spinal column, which runs down the middle of the spine. Then, nerves branch out from between each vertebra and connect to the specific parts of the body they are designed to innervate. Stemming from each vertebra is a nerve that branches many times so that each part of the body can have sensation.
The Concept of Referred Pain
Because of this setup, there are many different body parts whose signals travel through the same nerve pathway. This is what gives us the concept of referred pain. Referred pain is described as pain felt in one area that actually stems from a different area. One of the most common areas that this pain originates from is the spine.
If the spine becomes damaged or a nerve root is pinched as it is leaving the spinal canal, pain can be felt in any of the other areas that the nerve leads to. This pain can be felt in various intensities, come in different forms, be chronic or sporadic, and have other differences.
One of the most common forms of referred pain from back in the spine is known as sciatica. Sciatica arises due to the sciatic nerve, which is the largest nerve that innervates the leg, being pinched as it leaves the spine. This nerve can be pinched due to a herniated disc, disc degeneration, spinal misalignment, or the narrowing of the spinal canal.
Sciatica is generally referred to as radiating pain, and it is often sharp, searing, or burning in nature. In some cases, this condition can result in numbness or tingling down the leg and into the foot and toes. General weakness is another common symptom that can be felt throughout the legs.
Some individuals feel this condition more in the hips or glutes, while others experience more symptoms in the lower leg. This is one of the reasons that it is difficult to determine exactly where the pain is coming from.
Referred pain can manifest itself in many ways other than sciatica as well. Since nerves are present all over the body and the severity of spinal damage can differ so significantly, pain intensity and sensation can vary as well. In some cases, a dull pain may be felt in the arms, shoulder, hips, knees, or another body part. Lateral pain can also be felt if a nerve stemming directly out to the side from the spine is pinched. This pain is most common in the middle back, and it may feel as though one of your ribs has been damaged.
The human body has the ability to process millions to billions of stimuli each second, and it can quickly communicate various signals in response to keep the body healthy and running smoothly. However, it is not always perfect. Due to the way the human body’s nervous system is designed, sometimes pain felt in one area may be coming from somewhere totally different.
With this in mind, it is important not to jump to any conclusions. There would be nothing worse than getting a knee or a hip replacement to try to alleviate certain pain when really a simple back injection or procedure is what is needed instead.