Social Question

DigitalBlue's avatar

Does untreated pain "spread" to other areas in the body?

Asked by DigitalBlue (6679 points ) March 12th, 2014

I have daily abdominal pain that I mostly just cope with. I don’t like taking any medication and I have never liked the idea of taking pain medication regularly, let alone daily.

I notice that sometimes when it gets bad or worse than usual, I start to hurt everywhere else, too. My joints, muscles, I usually get a headache and a backache. Is that common if pain is untreated? Not specifically abdominal pain, but with any type of pain, for example if someone has a bad headache and doesn’t take anything for it.

I’m not asking for medical advice or a diagnosis, I was just thinking about it and it got me curious.

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30 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

It can, for a couple reasons. One is, the state of being in pain causes the whole body to tense up, and that tension can cause pain all over. For instance, many headaches are caused by tension in the neck and shoulders.

Another is that pain in one area causes one to change posture or movement in another area to compensate. For instance, if you hurt your right ankle you might end uop with pain in the left knee or back.

LDRSHIP's avatar

@zenvelo Covered it pretty well. I had a surgery on my right knee and left ankle and knee started hurting more since I was compensating for a weakend right leg/knee. I’ve worked on fixing this imbalance, but I sometimes wonder if its there to stay.

DigitalBlue's avatar

@zenvelo oh yes, that makes a lot of sense.

JLeslie's avatar

Everything @zenvelo said plus depression and other psychological states can actually cause physical pain, and chronic pain tends to affect mood. It’s all a big mess. I actually recently saw a doctor talking about this in the Katie Couric show and she said after her husband died her back pain got really bad.

janbb's avatar

I’ll ask the obvious question; have you seen a doctor about this? Chronic pain is not something to live with if you can avoid it.

Pachy's avatar

Dr. @zenvelo is absolutely correct. I have a bad knee, and when it’s particularly painful, as in very cold weather, I favor that leg, which causes both legs, back and shoulders to ache.

Get thee to a doctor for a checkup.

DigitalBlue's avatar

@janbb yes, I have seen a doctor and I am in the process of seeing a specialist.

I have posted a few things recently about it, but in a nutshell I was “misdiagnosed” as depressed for a very long time. I was depressed, but there was a much better physical explanation for what has been going on with me for the last few years than simply depression. The depression was probably a side effect of my physical pain, rather than the other way around.

The only options that I have for managing my symptoms are pain medications or surgery, I prefer surgery. In the meanwhile, I cope with my pain as I have done for over 10 years, I just find it much easier to do so when I’m not under the assumption that I am bedridden with untreatable depression. I am also just now learning to pay attention to my pain and to my body, rather than brushing it off as a low mood or personality defect. (Not to suggest that depression is a personality defect, but that is how it felt to me for years when my “depression” did not respond to treatment.) Just that I spent years learning to ignore my symptoms, so now that I am listening to my body, it makes me curious about crap like this.

@JLeslie I believe that. I think the two go hand in hand much more closely than we tend to admit or even that medical professionals tend to admit. I think it is a major flaw that, as a society, we tend to treat mental or emotional symptoms as less valid than “physical” symptoms, as though the brain is not a physical organ.

janbb's avatar

This is a side issue and may be modded but I wonder why you, and so many others, avoid pain meds. If I have pain, I want to treat it. I realize there are addiction issues but not with everything. This is in no way meant as a criticism; I know many feel the same way.

And I totally understand why you were frustrated by having a diagnosis of depression for so long that was inaccurate.

snowberry's avatar

Unfortunately, a misdiagnosis, or a very long time with no diagnosis leads many (most?) doctors to say it’s all in your head. That’s partly because you can’t see pain. My mother lived with undiagnosed pain for 15+ years before she had a diagnosis. Until she had her diagnosis she was “crazy”, and of course all her doctors related to her like she was crazy. After the diagnosis, she wasn’t “crazy” anymore, but the damage was done anyway.

THAT’S CRAZY!

DigitalBlue's avatar

@janbb I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I worry about the long term effects of taking something like a steady stream of ibuprofen for 10 years in my 20s and 30s. What does that mean for my body in my 50s and 60s? What does that mean for my kidneys? Will it cause rebound pain?
I like solutions. To me, pain meds are not a solution. It’s like putting a bandaid on a broken leg. I do not negatively judge chronic pain patients who use medications, including pain medications, including narcotic pain medications, to control their symptoms. I am lucky to not have to work and that I can suffer at home in my jammies and sleep for 14 hours a night if I need it or not have to get up at the crack of dawn if I wasn’t able to sleep the night before. It’s just not for me. I worry about the long term damage when I am not obtaining anything but quick, immediate relief. I think that addiction scares a lot of people, too, although I believe that in chronic pain conditions the risk of dependence is real, but the risk of true addiction is statistically really minor. (Don’t quote me, but I’m pretty sure.)

@snowberry exactly, yes. The damage has been done. At the end of April I am going for a bladder and bowel resection, appendectomy, I’m likely having a Fallopian tube removed and possibly an ovary. It’s amazing how much you can ignore when you are told repeatedly that something is in your head. I really believed that I was “crazy” beyond help. For years. It amazed me, it still amazes me, how I am not the least bit depressed now that I have had that burden lifted… yet the symptoms that I have been mistaking for “depression” are still around. Hindsight is 20/20, I have remarkable clarity about how the last 4 years have unfolded in my life. Wish I had known then.

If a mod wants to move this to social, that’s fine with me. I posted in General because it’s kind of a simple question that I figured had a relatively simple answer (which @zenvelo took care of.) I just didn’t expect there to be any interest in the discussion, otherwise, but it’s okay with me.

janbb's avatar

@DigitalBlue I understand what you’re saying and I hope you find solutions sooner rather than later.

snowberry's avatar

@DigitalBlue Among other issues, a large part of the damage done was that both my mother and I learned to never trust doctors again.

*Take their word as advice (sometimes qualified, sometimes not).

*Do your own research.

*Ask lots of questions. If your doctor thinks you’re wasting his time, you probably are. Find
a doctor who cares!

*Remember who is paying who. You are the consumer and the doctor is providing the service.

*A doctor’s word is not the word of God in spite of what many will try to tell you!

hearkat's avatar

[Mod says] Moved to Social per the OP’s (@DigitalBlue) comment.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@DigitalBlue I’m so sorry they misdiagnosed you. Of course if you feel like crap you’re not going to be happy and upbeat, which looks like depression. I don’t know what the answer is. I have a great group of doctors I can rely on. Everyone is a woman though, think that makes any difference?

gailcalled's avatar

Returning to the original question, as I began doing more and more strenuous rehab exercises for a total knee replacement, I too began having compensatory distress. When the weights I hung from the ankle of my operated leg hit four lbs, I started to have groin and lower back pain.

After I was finished with the official rehab physical therapy (abour 4 months after surgery), I began to rebalance what I was doing. I joined an online knee replacement forum and got some sensible advice, which was to redefine my exercise program as my operated knee grew stronger.

It has taken about six weeks of experimentation but I now have a program in place at home for my general health and well-being rather than just focused on one body part. During the first four months of rehab, following the specific PT program was vital; now it isn’t. I’ll spare you the specifics…in brief, heat, breathing, stretching, strengthening, posture, dumbbells, treadmill, more stretching breathing, ice (and nap, if I can).

DigitalBlue's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe that your doctors are women? I had a female doctor “diagnose” me with “bad luck.”
@gailcalled is compensatory distress a phrase that they use in PT or is that what you’re calling it? Just curious, since it’s fitting.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@DigitalBlue A doctor actually diagnosed you as having bad luck?

gailcalled's avatar

I don’t think I coined the phrase since it is so apt; my physical therapists and I discussed how to protect my lower back (which has been an ongoing chronic issue for me) all the time. If I wanted to do something sitting on a chair with a back rather than on the edge of the exercise table, I discussed it with them and then did it. I always used a small lumbar roll also when sitting on a recumbent bicycle; if I hadn’t mentioned it, they would not have been able to guess it was necessary for me.

The therapists treated me as an equal partner through-out and I never had any trouble speaking out.

When I redesigned the at-home program they suggested, I called to inform them. They said, “Good.”

My experience with all my physicians has been the same; I am half the partnership. However, I do not expect them to be magicians, and I have a good idea about what is possible and what isn’t. As I age, less and less is possible. Exercise, diet and meditation are the most useful triad for me.

DigitalBlue's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe of course it wasn’t an actual diagnosis. But, yes, she blamed my symptoms on bad luck.
@gailcalled glad you found something that is working for you.

JLeslie's avatar

@DigitalBlue In medicine it is common for doctors to list depression as part of list of symptoms. For instance if a woman has fybromyalgia she is likely to have depression, they see that as part of the list along with chronic muscle pain, etc. I actually get annoyed with them focusing on depression because then I feel like they don’t care about trying to find a real answer to the pain. It’s a double edged sword, because the depression and anxiety can contribute to pain, but I also think women have their illnesses dismissed in a way because doctors focus on us being more hysterical or something. We have all these sucky autoimmune type things that medicine has not figures out. I had chronic pain for years and what made me better physically and psychologically was a doctor who finally treated the actual physical problem.

@janbb I was reluctant to take pain meds for a few reasons. One was I felt like doctors were not listening to me, and covering the pain would in a way be like giving up or giving in to those horrible doctors who told me I was “normal” when I knew I wasn’t. I didn’t want to mask the pain, which doctors seem just fine doing, I wanted to be actually better. I also don’t like the idea of mediciation in general. However, I do think pain is traumatic for the body, so I probably was more stubborn about it than I should have been. Lastly, when I was in chronic pain I was able to kind of block that part of my body off at times. I actually tried biofeedback and one time and the person I saw for it could not believe how “dead” that area of my body was. They put little electrode like things to receive impulses I guess. Like when you get an EKG.

janbb's avatar

I dunno. I get a certain tension headache on the left side occasionally. If I take a specific prescription pill in time, it goes away. Before I had those pills, it would sometimes go into full-blown migraine mode with nausea, vomiting, etc. I’m quite happy to mask that pain and I don’t need an MRI to find out what causes it. But that’s just me; if a Band-Aid solution works, I’ll take it.

But I am not saying that other people don’t have serious medical conditions that need analyzing and treatment.

JLeslie's avatar

@janbb I take Advil when I get a headache, and I take it for menstrual cramps. That is completely different than having something you truly believe can be cured if doctors took the time to think and listen and believe the patient. The pain is what let’s you know you are still sick.

DigitalBlue's avatar

@JLeslie exactly. It is different. I don’t want the “Band-Aid solution” when I believe there is a more permanent solution. I become especially hopeless when I can’t solve a problem, which I think is a big part of why this in particular made such a huge mess of me. It really does remind me of “hysteria,” you wouldn’t think that sort of thing still happens in medicine, but I have learned the hard way that it happens and that it happens often. It’s not just doctors, either, I think it’s partially a social problem. Because I think with things like this, and with autoimmune type illnesses in particular, that people do not understand and so it’s very easy to brush it off as “all in your head.” We even do it to ourselves. I do not think I will ever forget my recent moment of clarity when I realized that ‘I am not crazy, I’m exhausted.’ That may have been the most empowering moment of the last decade, for me, like someone switched my will to live back on.
Who wouldn’t feel hopeless in that situation? I have spent years in pain, with terrible fatigue and sleeplessness, with embarrassing symptoms that no one understood or cared about, only to be told that it was all in my head and to avoid fatty and spicy foods (my “IBS” was assumed to be from my gallbladder removal). Toss in the super fun~ experience of wrestling with infertility, and even that was brushed off by my doctor for a full year as “nothing to worry about.”
I have a history of anxiety and depression, so it’s not like it was unbelievable, but when it never improved no matter what I tried, it’s easy to understand how I got stuck in that state. I feel like anyone would. And I know I am not the only one, because now that I know about it, there is hardly a shortage of people who have been through something eerily similar. My own sister, who has the same issue, was run through the gamut of testing to repeatedly be told there was nothing wrong with her. That is disheartening, to me, so many young women being pushed aside.

@janbb I take an ibuprofen if I have a headache. I also take prescription pain medication or other prescription medications for my stomach when I really feel that I can’t take the pain for another second. I know women who have disease as extensive as mine that take morphine or dilaudid on a daily basis, almost always in combination with other medications to control their symptoms. If you had to take Percocet, muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatory medication every day to control your headaches, rather than a pill at the onset of symptoms, would you still feel the same way?
Of course, I know that many people feel the answer is “yes,” I’ve met lots of them in this process. I know women who get up and take their morphine and go to work. I also know that when I take the medicine prescribed to me for pain I am useless. I am doped to the gills and I can’t keep my eyes open, let alone drive a car or babysit for a friend or grocery shop for my grandmother, and I’m not sure that I like the idea of adjusting to function like that every day. I have spent many many years adjusting to functioning without them. It’s just my preference to keep it that way until, hopefully, I obtain long term relief through surgery.

So maybe it depends on what the Band-Aid solution entails?

janbb's avatar

@DigitalBlue Of course, we all make the choices that seem best to us. I sympathize with your problems, understand the severity of them and really hope for a good outcome for you.

DigitalBlue's avatar

@janbb wasn’t hoping to argue with you, just wanted to help you understand from my perspective. I promise I’m not a masochist. :)

JLeslie's avatar

@DigitalBlue Yes, hysteria, I used the word hysterical purposely. Sometimes I wonder how people go to the doctor and get better. That almost never happens for me. Sure it does with things like strep throat, or a blood test that shows I am anemic and I increase my iron. But, so much of what has ailed me is a big mystery I guess. No clear cut easy answer.

DigitalBlue's avatar

@JLeslie I hate that you struggle, but I love that you understand.
I was uninsured for years, so I learned to really gauge how urgent it was for me to seek medical care when I did not have the luxury of going for anything that could possibly be checked out by a doctor. I know that contributed to the delay in me having a diagnostic operation, but I also know that it changed a lot about how I approach my own medical care. I don’t go to the doctor unless I think they can help me, and it’s kind of rare that I think they can. I am a firm believer in the limits of modern medicine.
I think that there are too many of us who fall into this mystery category with similar symptoms and complaints that doctors are unable to explain or treat, and that it’s only a matter of time before they start connecting the dots. I hope, anyhow.

JLeslie's avatar

@DigitalBlue I always had medical coverage, but going ten times and getting nowhere will make you not want to go anymore. I have cried more times after doctors appointments than I can count.

DigitalBlue's avatar

Yes, I think it is worse. That is why I say I don’t think the doctor should get paid unless they actually help you. I know that isn’t really practical, but I’ll be damned, I shouldn’t have to pay you $70 every time you tell me that you can’t figure out what is wrong, let alone how to treat it.
That is pretty much what happened to my sister. Mind you, she is young, 21 years old. She went from doctor to doctor to specialist to specialist, they ran so many tests and so much bloodwork, they shuffled her around like a hockey puck. The kid couldn’t figure out if she was a medical anomaly or if every doctor in NE Ohio is an idiot. Neither are true, of course, but that is how it ends up feeling. I feel quite lucky that I was uninsured, and therefor largely ignored, because statistically it did not change my odds of being diagnosed (it still took 4 years after being insured), but the only real difference seems to be the number of times you will be told that it’s all in your head.

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