There are several different mechanisms that can cause pain.
Irritation of the nerves coming out of the spine (spinal nerves) can cause radiating pain down the leg or arm. The medical terms used to describe an irritated spinal nerve are radicular pain, radiculitis, and radiculopathy. A common layman’s term for pain radiating down the leg is “sciatica”. A great majority of cases of sciatica are due to a pinched nerve in the lumbar spine.
Pain due to a pinched spinal nerve is often felt in a specific nerve distribution. Some people feel pain straight down the back of their leg, while others feel it down the outer side of their leg, or wrapping around from the side to the front. Some people feel it radiate to the top of the foot, while others feel it on the outer or inner side of the foot. A pinched nerve in the neck can cause pain radiating into the shoulder blade region and down the arm, and often into the hand.
Pain also can be caused by compression or inflammation involving the spinal cord. Pain will often be felt in the region of the body supplied by that area of the spinal cord.
Pain can occur when a peripheral nerve is inflamed or entrapped. Common examples of this include the median nerve at the wrist (aka carpal tunnel syndrome) and ulnar nerve at the elbow. Pain and nerve symptoms most often occurs below the area of nerve entrapment.
Direct muscle injury can cause pain. Although trauma is a common cause, there are also non-traumatic causes of muscle inflammation. An example of this is polymyalgia rheumatica, a condition in which pain is felt around both sides of the hips and shoulders.
Other sources of back pain include the bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons of the spine.
Although hip joint pain is often felt primarily in the groin, it’s common to feel a lesser degree of pain in the low back and buttock.
Shoulder conditions can similarly cause pain and tension into the lower neck and shoulder blade area.
Many joint problems in the legs or arms can also cause radiating symptoms that feel similar to conditions originating in the back.
Your physician will thoroughly collect information about your symptoms, and perform a complete physical examination, in order to determine the exact source of your pain. If there is more than one pain source, your physician will help you understand what symptoms are due to which source, so that treatment can be properly focused and prioritized.
Several other medical conditions that can cause pain include systemic inflammation from a rheumatologic condition (e.g. autoimmune disorders), generalized nerve inflammation (e.g. neuropathy), vascular conditions, internal organ disorders, infection, or cancer.
Let us connect you with a physician who can help you get back to living with less pain.