Most people visit a chiropractor because they are in pain. It is the chiropractor’s job to determine what is causing the pain and then take steps to fix the problem. In some cases, this can be quite tricky because of something called referred pain, meaning that the pain is felt in a different area than the actual problem. There are a few different types of referred pain:
Radicular: This type of pain is caused by a nerve that is being irritated or compressed. One example is shooting pain down the leg (aka sciatica) caused by a disc herniation in the lumbar spine. This type of pain is typically described as sharp and shooting like an electric shock, and it is often accompanied by numbness or tingling. True radicular pain is not very common; most people who come to see me complaining of sciatica actually have deep referred pain.
Deep referred pain: This type of pain is caused by inflammation and in the joints or ligaments or trigger points (“knots”) in the muscles or tendons. It occurs because of the way the body is wired. For example, nerves coming from your buttock and thigh connect to the spinal cord in the same area as nerves coming from the sacroiliac (pelvic) joint. Sometimes the brain has difficulty telling where the signal is coming from, and you will perceive pain in both areas. Therefore, if you have a sprain or misalignment of the sacroiliac joint, you might feel pain in the buttock and thigh even though there is nothing wrong in that area. Many people who think they have sciatica are actually suffering from deep referred pain from the lumbar spine, pelvis, and gluteal muscles.
Deep referred pain is by far the most common type of musculoskeletal pain; I can pretty much guarantee you have experienced it in some form before. It can be quite a good mimic; people will often come to my office with what they think is sciatica, plantar fasciitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or a “pinched nerve”, only to find out the cause of their pain is being referred from adjacent joints or muscles.
Somatovisceral pain: Signals from the internal organs and musculoskeletal system can also be confused by the brain, causing organic diseases to refer to the musculoskeletal system and vice versa. One example that you are probably familiar with is the pain that sometimes radiates into the neck, jaw, and down the arm during a heart attack. Fortunately I rarely see this type of pain in my office!
Whatever type of pain you have, don’t ignore it. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Come in and get checked out. If caught early, most problems are fairly simple and can be taken care of easily.