Getting to the root of radiating pain
If you went to see your doctor about shooting pains in your arms or cramping in your legs, you’d probably be surprised to find out a condition in the spine is actually the cause. After all, it seems strange that leg pain could result from something that seems more likely to cause back pain. Although it may be alarming, this is a more common diagnosis than you think and it affects millions of people every year.
These symptoms are related because the spine acts as the superhighway of the central nervous system, transmitting information between the brain and the rest of the body. If a problem starts here, it can cause pain and other symptoms down the pathway of the nerve — leading to radiating pain.
Where can radiating pain start?
Even though it may be the first thing you think of, a herniated disc or other condition in the lower spine can cause other symptoms besides localized back pain. By compressing a nerve root that eventually travels down the leg, spine conditions can cause radiating pain in the lower body. You may have heard this type of radiating pain referred to as sciatica, which is the compression of the sciatic nerve that originates in the spine.
Radiating pain can sometimes occur in the upper spine as well. The nerve roots here travel from the neck and upper back to the shoulders, arms and hands. In addition to neck pain and shooting pain, radiating symptoms due to nerve compression in the cervical spine can also include headaches.
While a very common source of radiating pain, spine conditions aren’t the only causes of pain in other areas of the body. Other conditions such as pancreatitis, a heart condition or a strained muscle can also result in pain from a source that is hard to identify.
Don’t ignore radiating pain
If you are experiencing new pain and you don’t understand where it’s coming from, it’s critical to see your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment plan. While the effects of spine conditions are generally not considered a medical emergency, in rare cases radiating symptoms are caused by a condition called cauda equina syndrome that can be potentially life-threatening. Seek medical attention immediately if you are experiencing loss of bladder or bowel control and reduced sensation in the lower body, as these are common symptoms of cauda equina syndrome.
Relieving your radiating pain
Although it can have a negative effect on your quality of life, radiating pain caused by a spine condition has many effective treatments. Taking steps to increase spinal stability while reducing the stress on the spine can relieve the nerve compression that is often the result of radiating pain. This is generally accomplished through physical therapy, exercises like yoga or Pilates, chiropractic care, nutritional counseling and weight management, if necessary.
Pain management options like epidural steroid injections may also be recommended in more severe cases, especially if radiating pain is too severe to otherwise allow for the completion of physical therapy or an exercise program. Spine surgery may be recommended in situations where nonsurgical therapies have been exhausted yet pain is still getting in the way of normal activities.
As the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery, Laser Spine Institute is here to help you learn about the treatment options available to you. Reach out to our caring team today and ask for your free MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our outpatient procedures.