Referred pain is a common symptom of back pain sufferers. Referred pain is a pain felt at a site other than where the source of the pain is. An example is the pain from the kidneys, which may be felt in the back. Pain in internal organs is often referred to sites distant from them. Another example of referred pain could be sciatica, or pain or nerve pain that is felt in the buttocks as a result of one or more of the lumbar nerve roots being compressed.
The spinal cord is a collection of nerves that travel from the brain. Individual nerve roots (there are 31 of them) travel from the spinal cord, all the way through the body and to the tips of the arms and legs. If one of these nerve roots becomes impacted by compression of the spine, anything structures that these nerves are supporting may be effected. If the nerve roots exiting the bottom lumbar vertebra are compressed, we may feel pain in our legs. Or we may feel a loss of sensitivity or strength in our feet. Referred pain in our feet may be a serious symptom, necessitating emergency surgery or treatment.
We may also feel referred pain in our arms as a result of nerve root compression. Nerve root compression in one of our cervical vertebra may present as referred pain in our arms or hands. Referred pain that suddenly comes on for no reason, in one of our arms, may a sign of a more serious problem, as it could also be as a result of a coronary event, such as a stroke or heart attack.
Sciatica is one of the most common examples of referred pain suffered by lower back pain patients. Sciatica is a painful symptom under the category of low back pain. The pain of sciatica is felt along the sciatic nerve, which runs from the low back into the buttock area, down the back of the thigh and the inner leg, and extends as far down as the foot. Sciatic pain may come on suddenly and at a high intensity or it may develop gradually. Symptoms of sciatica include severe, sharp, electrical pain with aching and burning characteristics. Up to 5 percent of the population may feel this type of referred pain. Though sciatica is treatable, the symptoms may relapse, with a lifetime prevalence of up to 40 percent.
The cause of sciatica is an irritation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is formed from several spinal nerves that pass through the openings in the sacrum, the lower portion of the spine. This nerve is the primary nerve in our leg and the longest and largest nerve in the body. The nerve travels the entire length of our leg, all the way into our heel area. When this nerve is impacted or compressed, a sharp, electrical wave of pain, along with other symptoms, can occur anywhere along the pathway. These other symptoms may include burning, achiness, weakness, tingling, and numbness.
Alternative therapies for sciatica include Acupressure, Acupuncture, the Feldenkrais method, Myotherapy, Trager, and Tai Chi.