Pain: Trick Or Treat?

With Halloween just wrapping up, my mind drifted thinking about everything involved with the holiday.

Kids dressing up in costumes, running up to doors saying trick or treat, getting scared, and getting fun treats.

Sometimes you end up getting tricked (like getting a toothbrush instead of that king sized candy bar).

Sometimes you may even think you’ve been tricked, but turns out that Banana flavored Laffy Taffy is pretty good afterall!

As a physical therapist, I couldn’t help but see the parallels between so many things around Halloween and Pain. Specifically, thinking about how pain can present itself as a mean trick, but can sometimes turn out to be a weird treat.

It’s easy to see pain as a villain and label it as a trick immediately. I don’t think I need to go into great detail about how pain can be bad. I’ve made a career out of helping people get out of pain, after all.

However, pain can sometimes be even more “tricky” than we may realize.

Pain will often present in an area that has absolutely nothing wrong with it!! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a patient tell me something like, “My hip is killing me, but my doctor said there’s nothing wrong with it.”

They may have even spent hundreds of dollars getting x-rays, injections, and medicines to treat their hip pain with little to no relief.

I’ve even had some people have a hip replacement, and still suffer from the same hip pain.

A lot of times when this happens, it’s caused by what is called “referred pain.”

Referred pain is when an area of the body hurts because a different area of the body is sending signals there. An example of this that people are familiar with is when a person is experiencing a heart attack and their arm hurts.

You don’t need to take years of Anatomy courses to know the heart is not in the arm, but there is pain there anyway.


Because of referred pain!

The same phenomenon happens when someone’s hip hurts and there is nothing wrong with their hip. More often than not, that pain is actually coming from the spine. Specifically, the Lumbar spine.

The nerves that run through a person’s hip originate from the spinal cord exiting through small spaces in the Lumbar spine. If something in the low back is causing irritation to those nerves, the pain is often felt in their hip, thigh, or even down to their foot.

In order to get rid of that hip pain, what really needs to be treated is their low back!!

At Switchback Physical Therapy we see and help people like this all the time.

Just recently, we worked with someone with upper back, arm, shoulder pain and arm/hand numbness.

The cause of all these symptoms was not in any of the areas of complaint… it was because of an injury to their neck!

After treating their neck, we were able to eliminate all the other areas of pain/discomfort, and they were able to resume working, yard-work, and living their lives without interruption from their symptoms!

The treat part of pain can be somewhat “tricky” too. It’s not always easy to be thankful for pain, but it plays a vital role in our survival.

If we touch a pan that’s hot, we know to move away from it because it hurts! That saves us from further damaging our skin. If something hurts bad or long enough, we usually go get it checked out which can help prevent further damage/injury.

Pain is a signal from our brain saying, something’s wrong and potentially harmful. This alert tells us to take action.

Whether that action is going to the emergency department, calling our physician, or making an appointment with a physical therapist.

Pain is incredibly important for our survival, but we don’t want to have pain indefinitely. We don’t need to continue receiving signals that there is an injury. We want to hear the signal, address the problem, and get that uncomfortable signal to stop!

If you’ve been suffering from pain, are ready to do something about it, and want to get back to the adventures of your life…

Get in touch with Switchback Direct Physical Therapy!


Dr. Tyler Burke

DPT, Owner and Founder of Switchback Direct PT

We help injured outdoor enthusiasts to stop hurting and start adventuring.

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