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Pain from within – Why pain isn’t always a strain or sprain

Did you know that you don’t always have to strain a muscle or sprain a ligament in order to feel pain? Deep inside your body are the cogs that keep your body ticking over… your organs. We have lots of organs inside us: The heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, and more. Well, did you know that when something goes wrong with these organs, they can also give you pain? To add to this, sometimes that pain is felt in a completely different part of the body than where the organ is located! This can lure you in to thinking that something is wrong with that body part when really there isn’t. Sounds silly right? Let us explain further…

In scientific terms, we are referring to a phenomenon called viscero-somatic pain or a viscero-somatic reflex. ‘Viscero’ refers to ‘organ’ and ‘somatic’ refers to ‘body part’. So, by definition, viscero-somatic pain is pain that comes from an organ that is felt in a specific body part. And for each organ, there is a specific body part or parts that you will generally feel the pain in. It all comes down to how the body is wired in the nervous system. We’ll give you an example to make this a little clearer…

When someone has a heart attack, the classic symptom is chest pain (although not always). However, they will often experience other symptoms such as left-sided neck, jaw, shoulder and arm pain. The reason for this is when the heart muscle becomes devoid of oxygen from a blocked artery, a nerve signal is sent to the spinal cord and up towards the brain to alert the brain that something is wrong. At the same level of the spinal cord where those heart signals enter, there are also other nerves entering that relate directly to the muscles and skin from the neck, jaw, shoulder and arm. The theory is that the brain cannot distinguish where the problem is coming from, due to the close proximity of the nerves in the spinal cord, and therefore you may feel pain in both the chest and in these other areas. It’s pretty crazy right?!

A problem with the liver or gallbladder can give pain symptoms in the abdomen and also in the right shoulder. It’s for the same reason as above, but just a slightly different wiring for that organ.

As an Osteo, we will be looking for certain signs and symptoms if we suspect this might be happening with you. These might include:

  • Pain that is deep, diffuse and difficult to localise
  • Pain that is difficult to reproduce in the clinic room
  • Changes in the skin, such as sweating, dryness, redness or changes in sensation
  • Changes in the muscles, such as spasm or rigidity
  • Pain which is unaffected by activity or rest

We’ll also be very interested in your medical history and will ask you questions to see if you have a history of digestive, breathing or urinary issues (this depends of course on the organ we suspect may be the issue). There may be a few sensitive questions we need to ask, so please do not be offended if we dig deep. It’s all to ensure we get to the root cause of your issue. Some of our treatment may also be aimed at affecting the target organ itself. We’ll be sure to talk you through any treatment techniques before we perform them. Rest assured, if we feel you need to be seen by a GP or specialist, we’ll point you in the right direction to ensure you are in capable hands.

The Lymphatic System

Hello everyone and welcome to our September blog post. This month we’re going to introduce you to your lymphatic system. What it is, what it does, and why your Osteo loves it so much.

So, what is the lymphatic system?

One part of it is a collection of small tubes found right throughout the body, and you can think of these tubes as part of the circulatory system of the body. Say ‘circulatory’ and everyone thinks of blood, arteries and veins, but the buck doesn’t stop there. The lymphatic tubes are well and truly just as important as the tubes that carry blood around the body. The other part of the lymphatic system is a collection of larger tissues found in various areas of the body and you can think of these as part of the body’s defence system. So straight away, you can see it’s pretty darn important!

Let us take a look at these areas in a little more detail… A little recap for you on circulation: arteries take blood from the heart to the body, and veins take blood back to the heart from the body. Where does the lymphatic system fit in to all of this? Well, the tubes (or vessels) of the lymphatic system roughly follow the pathway of the veins of the body (so back towards the heart). The pump of the heart creates pressure, which drives blood through the arteries where it gets distributed around the body providing life-giving nourishment to all of the different tissues of the body (i.e. our skin, muscles, bones and organs). However, the pressure from the arteries causes some of the fluid and nutrients in blood to leak out into the surrounding areas. And this is where the lymphatic tubes kick in. They pick up the excess fluid and nutrients (mainly proteins) and send it all back towards the heart to be re-used by the body. This ensures every valuable bit of fluid and nutrition in the body is not wasted. Very efficient right?! The fluid that travels through lymph vessels is simply called ‘lymph’.

The lymph travels through the lymph vessels by a combination of muscle contractions in the vessel walls, and us moving our bodies (another reason why moving is so good for you!). Along the way back up to the heart, the fluid is passed through a filter station called a lymph node. Here, any of the nasty bacteria, viruses, or even cancer cells that are in the lymph are dealt with swiftly by our defence cells. The freshly cleaned lymph is then sent further along the chain until it reaches a vein close to the heart. It is here where the lymph re-enters the blood and the cycle continues.

Before we forget (just kidding, we never forget!), in the small intestines there are some very specialised lymph vessels which help the body to absorb fats from the foods we eat. This is another important function of the lymphatic system!

Defence, defence, defence!

On the defensive front, there are various tissues located around the body (called lymphoid tissues) where the production of our defence cells occurs. The main tissues include the ‘thymus’ - which is found in the upper chest region, and the ‘spleen’ - found in the abdomen. If it wasn’t for these handy organs, we would be much more susceptible to infection and disease (and death). So, it’s these organs which help to populate our bodies with the lifesaving defence cells. We have a lot to be thankful for with this system!

Osteos love their lymphatic systems

So why are we so interested in this system? Well at the heart of Osteopathy lies the principle of maintaining fluid balance and equilibrium throughout the body. We’re all about keeping the flow going. But sometimes flow of fluid in the body can become compromised, maybe due to injury or disease, and then congestion in the tissues occurs and things start to stagnate. This can lead to a whole host of issues including reduction in movement, pain, and imbalance throughout the body. Regardless of your issue, our treatment will aim to remove any barriers to a functioning system to reinstate flow of fluid through the body. Sometimes a dysfunctional lymphatic system can lead to a type of swelling called lymphedema, which is essentially a backlog of lymph fluid. This often occurs in the hands, arms, feet and legs. Depending on the cause, this is something your trusty Osteo is skilled at dealing with, so always seek help if you notice swelling.

We hope this has been interesting and educational, and we hope you now have a newfound respect for the intricacies of the human body. After all, it is what keeps you alive, so look after it. Here’s to health!!