Accessibility View Close toolbar

The Problem of Radiating Pain

Many people experience radiating pain as a component of neck pain or low back pain. A person with neck pain might have pain that radiates down her arm, possibly into the hand.1 A person with low back pain might have accompanying leg pain, possibly traveling into the foot. Such arm/hand pain or leg/foot pain can represent a serious underlying health problem. However, not all types of radiating pain are of equal importance. The key is to be able to identify which patterns require prompt attention and which merely appear to be significant but are not.

Authentic radiating pain is most often caused by pressure and/or irritation of a spinal nerve root.2 The spinal nerve becomes inflamed and sends pain signals to the brain that are interpreted as pain in the region of the body supplied by that nerve. Inflammation of a certain spinal nerve in the neck region will result in the experience of pain down the outside of the arm and forearm and into the thumb and possibly index finger. Inflammation of a certain spinal nerve in the low back causes the person to feel pain traveling along the back of the thigh and calf and into the fifth toe.

Specific patterns of radiating pain are associated with inflammation of specific spinal nerves. Such inflammation may be typically caused by pressure from a herniated intervertebral disc. Other disorders which may create local space-occupying pressure need to be considered as well. A thorough history and physical examination will help to identify the cause of the problem. X-ray studies may be needed, as well as an MRI scan. The underlying problem, including the pattern of pain radiation, may be termed a radiculopathy or radiculitis.

But most cases of what appears to be radiating pain are not, in fact, related to pressure on a spinal nerve. Most patterns of radiating pain are not associated with a radiculopathy or radiculitis. Rather, the large majority of pain patterns involving the arm/hand or leg/foot are caused by normal, everyday aches and pains. Our run-of-the-mill physical problems involve relatively large muscles such as the trapezius (overlying the upper back, shoulder, and mid back) and relatively small muscles such as those that overlay the spinal bones themselves and help move the spinal column. Ligaments that hold bones together and tendons that attach muscles to bones may also be involved in these everyday ailments.

Irritation and inflammation of muscles, ligaments, and tendons may cause more difficulty than mere soreness and tightness. Such inflammation may also cause radiating pain, but in broader, more diffuse patterns than those caused by inflammation of a nerve root. A person might experience neck pain with arm and hand pain, or back pain with leg and foot pain, but in a broad pattern not associated with a spinal nerve. This is actually good news for the patient, as such forms of radiating pain (known as scleratogenous patterns), are usually more easily treated than those associated with a radiculopathy or radiculitis.

The bottom line is that your chiropractor is experienced in the diagnosis and care of such problems. Your chiropractor will be able to determine if your radiating pain is associated with muscles, ligaments, and tendons or if it is related to pressure on a spinal nerve.3 Your chiropractor will make specific recommendations for care of your specific health problem and help guide you in the process of returning to good health.

1Caridi JM, et al: Cervical radiculopathy: a review. HSS J 7(3):265-272, 2011
2Magrinelli F, et al: Neuropathic pain: diagnosis and treatment. Pract Neurol 2013 Apr 16 [Epub ahead of print]
3Mena J, Sherman AL: Imaging in radiculopathy. Phys Med Rehabil Clin North Am 22(1):42-57, 2011

Multicare Health Clinic

3930 STADIUM DR
SIOUX CITY, IA 51106
Phone Number: (712) 276-4325

Get Directions

Location

Email Us

Office Hours

Monday:

8:30 am-6:30 pm

Tuesday:

8:30 am-6:30 pm

Wednesday:

8:30 am-6:30 pm

Thursday:

8:30 am-6:30 pm

Friday:

8:30 am-2:00 pm

Saturday:

Closed

Sunday:

Closed

Testimonials

  • "At night my right hand would go painfully numb at least 2-3 times where I could not sleep. Now, I don't have that pain and can get a full night sleep."
    Janet D.
  • "Dr. Sneller helped. I haven't been feeling dizzy anymore."
    Belinda B
  • "After an accident at work I didn't think I'd ever get relief from my aching shoulder. But, the doctors at Multicare gave me adjustments and physical therapy and now I feel normal again."
    Cliff C.
  • "After my consultatin with the doctors at Multicare Health Clinic, I understand how to address my balance issues."
    Anna A.
  • "I leave here feeling confident that I have the resources to manage my pain and live normally, and that's priceless."
    Alycen V.
  • "There couldn't be a better physical therapy team in Siouxland! Not only did my knee feel so much better after six weeks, but I feel like I made new friends."
    Karla K.
  • "After my knee surgery I was asked where I wanted to do my physical therapy, I chose Multicare Health Clinic and I'm so glad I did! Dr. Steve and the therapy assistants (Sara and Megan) are fabulous! They know what they're doing and they all really seemed to care about my recovery. I'm feeling fantastic! I'll definitely go back again whenever I need therapy or adjustments."
    Sheri J.
  • "I wasn't able to use my hand the way I should. After working with Dr. Sneller and the physical therapy team, I can use my hand again."
    Henry H.
  • "I'm now a believer now! I didn't think chiropractic could help my foot problems. But after meeting with Dr. Pistello and Dr. Dave for a few weeks, I'm feeling so much better!"
    Gino G.
  • "My shoulder and neck feel so much better. I now have the knowledge, motivation, desire and tools to keep up the exercises."
    Barb B.
  • "I now can go a full week without pain and headaches."
    Luke W.
  • "My company encouraged all of us employees to get screened at Multicare. I didn't know what to expect. It was easy and I learned so much. The orthotics they prescribed really help me to feel more stable and confident at work."
    Jim J.
  • "Not only is my pain level down to zero, but what I'm really thrilled with, is that I have normal feeling in my hands."
    Jill L.
  • "I'm so glad my sister referred me to Multicare! My elbow hasn't felt this good in a long time. Thanks to the great physical therapy team there."
    Ellen E.
  • "I'm a runner. When I wasn't able to run due to leg problems, I was devastated. But a consultation at Multicare Health Clinic identified the problem and after some adjustments, stimulation treatments and therapy, I'm running again!"
    Lisa L.
  • "I wasn't able to use my hand the way I should. After working with Dr. Sneller and the physical therapy team, I can use my hand again."
    Ivy I.
  • "Being able to present my back pain to three different professions in one place and knowing that they are working together to make me better is very comforting."
    Charlie P.