The Hurt Locker
By Kevin Whipps
Six months ago, I woke up in blinding pain. I was positive I had broken my big toe — I had no evidence that was the case, but it hurt so much it felt like it just had to be broken, there was simply no other diagnosis. I could barely walk, and putting any pressure on it at all forced me to my knees. I was miserable.
A brief visit to a pain specialist later, and I learned my big toe was not, in fact, broken. My problem was gout — a buildup of uric acid around an arthritic joint in my big toe. Triggered by a recent shift in my diet, the condition was causing me excruciating pain.
In my case, I was originally certain my pain stemmed from a broken toe, but I was wrong. You may be going through something similar. There are many different pain-causing issues that can appear to be one thing, but are actually something else. So how do you fix a problem you can’t pinpoint? Let’s find out.
Back and Forth
There are many reasons why your back could be in pain, but sometimes it comes from an unexpected place: your feet.
Take plantar fasciitis, for example. If you’ve recently put on weight or have flat feet, you could develop back pain. The condition is formed in the arch of your foot. The fascia — the tissue that connects the ball of your foot to your heel — forms that arch, and if it takes on too much weight, it can collapse inward, which will adjust your gait and stance. The pain can travel upward into your lower back, causing substantial pain. It’s a chain reaction. And to some, the back pain is worse than the arch issues, causing them to incorrectly believe the problem originated in their backs, not in their feet.
Why is the back such an issue? Inside your spine is your spinal cord, a part of the central nervous system. This cord runs from the bottom of your brain down to your lower back, branching off to various areas along the way. Because it’s so critical, the spinal cord is protected by not only the vertebrae, but also the cerbrospinal fluid and meninges, which combine to keep it as safe as possible.
Unfortunately, things happen. Sometimes a nerve running off the spinal cord gets pinched, and you end up in pain. Because that nerve runs somewhere else — the thigh, buttock or hip, for example — it feels like the pain is coming from that other area. But in reality, it’s not your thigh, buttock or hip that is in pain — it’s the nerve that senses pain in that area.
It should be clear, then, that a trained professional must be the one to diagnose these issues, otherwise you could be prescribed treatment and/or medication for a condition you simply do not have.
It’s All in Your Head
The problem with pain is that sometimes it’s difficult to localize. If you don’t understand exactly where the issue is occurring — regardless of where it’s originally coming from — you could have a tough time explaining your problem to your doctor. As a result, a medical professional might tell you the pain is “all in your head.” But here’s the thing: There’s a psychological reason for feeling pain less than 1 percent of the time. Which means, there’s a pretty solid chance that if you think you’re in pain, you’re actually in pain. It also means you should see another doctor.
Unless It Actually Is
Then there are migraines, which are quite literally a pain in your head. But migraines are also quite often misdiagnosed.
According to an article by The Neurology Center, “Epidemiological studies suggest that migraine is incorrectly diagnosed in roughly 50 percent of cases.” Why? Well, there is often miscommunication in how the pain is described by the patient, and then because of that, how the pain is treated by the doctors. The article continues, “Of the roughly 50 percent of misdiagnosed patients who actually have migraine, 40 percent of those are misdiagnosed with sinus headaches and 30 percent are misdiagnosed with tension headaches.” In other words, you might have a migraine, but you may be treated for something else.
How do you get out of this cycle? See a doctor who specializes in pain. Men and women in the field of pain treatment and management often use a multidisciplinary approach to medicine, meaning they have many different ways to approach a problem. Some even offer alternative treatments, such as acupuncture and acupressure. It’s all about going to see someone who knows how to properly deal with pain to get yours sorted out.
At the end of the day, pain is a complex thing to diagnose and treat, for a variety of reasons. The problem might even be you, yourself, if you can’t localize the pain or specify where it originates, which can stifle the results of the practitioner. Maybe the pain is so vexing even a traditional doctor can’t determine where it originates. Whatever its causes, the pain must still be resolved or else you’ll be in a world of hurt indefinitely.
Do your research and find a pain specialist in your area who can help you with your pain problems. Only then will you truly find the relief you’re looking for.