Have you been suffering with chronic pain? Have you seen a few doctors, chiropractors, bodyworkers and/or physical therapists that don’t seem to be able to find or reslove the source of your pain? If this is familiar, the origin of your pain may be in your nerves (not your head).
Chronic pain is no joke. As a physical therapist, I find chronic pain is often a result of the dysfunction of one of many systems in the body; skeletal (joint pain) muscular, myofacial, or neural (nerves). Of those systems, nerve pain is often the most challenging to find and treat.
Nerves are the hard wiring that allows our body to move. Like an electrical circuit, our brain sends impulses (signals) down the spinal cord and into neural pathways that run into our arms and legs and organs. Those signals tell our muscles to contract or release, depending upon the movement your body is trying to achieve.
Like a muscle strain or a ligament sprain, nerves can also overstretch or partially tear and become injured. Due to their delicate structures, Inflammation (swelling) inside the injured nerve can be difficult to resolve . They are small but mighty and will continue to cause chronic pain or symptoms if not directly addressed.
Symptoms of a nerve injury can be felt anywhere from its origin at the spine (neck or low back) and often run down an arm or a leg into hands and/or feet. Neural symptoms may include sharp pain, burning, aching, tingling and/or numbness. Those symptoms are usually found in the neck, shoulder, forearm or hand in the upper body. In the lower body, nerve symptoms are felt in the low back, hip or buttocks and down the leg and occassionally feet. The achiness or pain can feel as though you’ve strained the spine or a muscle but is more elusive and global (as opposed to hard or sharp pain in one spot).
There are specific joint mobilization (passive gliding of the joints to restablish healthy movement) or neural stretching techniques that target nerve injuries. The treatment you receive may or may not work unless specifically focused on opening up, taking pressure off and/or gently and specifically stretching the nerve pathways through the extremities. For instance one may have an achy neck, shoulder or forearm from overworking at a computer or other repetitive motion type job or activity (driving, gardening, walking or a sport). If the focus of treatment only covers a specific muscle and/or joint in the body, the pain may not be resolved or get worse. Specific techniques and home exercises are needed to target the nerves. Injured nerves can be tricky to treat as they are very small structures and will respond negatively to overstretching or positions that impinge or put pressure on them.
Knowing how to differentiate (tell the difference between) nerve injuries from muscle and joint injuries is very important for any practitioner attempting to help a patient resolve chronic pain. Be sure you communicate that concern to your health-care practitioner.
If you are interested in help to understand or evaluate whether or not you have pain as a result of a nerve injury or irritation, please contact Core Connections Physical Therapy and Pilates.