5 Minute Guide: Sneaky Causes of Spinal and Extremity Pain

The Basics

It’s safe to say that no one likes to focus on pain, whether they’re experiencing it themselves or even hearing about it second-hand.

But, understanding pain is how we begin to uncover and overcome many common causes of spinal and extremity pain, a number of which we’ll be covering below.

So, what is pain in biological terms?

Defined

Pain is a general term that describes the uncomfortable sensations we experience as a result of the overstimulation of the nerves in an area or around the entire body due to underlying disease, trauma, or psychological diseases.

A Chiropractor’s Perspective:
The Three T’s of Pain

The earliest chiropractors referred to the three primary causes of spinal and extremity pain as the three T’s – i.e. trauma, thoughts, and toxins.

Let’s take a closer look at each.

Trauma

Trauma typically includes unexpected accidents, assaults, or any direct hit to the body that can not be prevented.

This cause of pain is what you usually think of when you go to the emergency room or need surgery.

A Scene Depicting a Trio fo Multidisciplinary Healthcare Professionals to Represent the 3 T's Associated with Causes of Spinal and Extremity Pain
Causes of Spinal and Extremity Pain: Trauma, Thoughts, and Toxins

Thoughts

While many people understand the brain-body connection, they often don’t realize that thoughts can, in fact, cause pain throughout the body.

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Typically, thought-related pain will manifest in the low back or a weak point where pain is often felt.

The types of psychological conditions that are both associated with several causes of spinal and extremity pain and can contribute to the development of chronic pain include stress, anxiety and depression.

Toxins

When you think of toxins, you most likely picture something like people being poisoned by their worst enemy.

And while we are including those sorts of toxins here…

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We’re also talking about natural toxins that float through the body like viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms, as well as the nutrition we voluntarily put into our bodies.

For example, when we ingest chemicals that our bodies are not ready to digest, we will most likely experience pain when they hit our liver and kidneys.

Preventing and Correcting Common Causes of Spinal and Extremity Pain

In this article, we will look at some often overlooked but incredibly common and primarily biomechanical reasons that aches and pains can develop in the different areas of the body.

By the time you finish reading this quick guide, you’ll understand the common causes of spinal and extremity pain, how preventable pain can be, and how a few small daily adjustments can make all the difference in the levels of daily aches and pains you personally experience.

Let’s start with every chiropractor’s “favorite” subject: low back pain.

Sneaky Causes of Low Back Pain

1. A Sedentary Lifestyle

One of the most commonly overlooked causes of spinal and extremity pain and especially pain in the low back is a lack of movement or sedentary behavior.

Sedentary behavior can also contribute to weight gain and less than optimal heart health.

When you think about sedentary behavior, you most likely immediately think about sitting – at your desk while you work, on the couch after you get home from work, and so on.

A Scene Depicting a Young African American Female Spending a Entire Day Sitting at Her Computer, One of the Leading Causes of Spinal and Extremity Pain
Causes of Spinal and Extremity Pain: The Effects of Sitting

Think about just how much we as a collective whole sit on any given day at work alone.

Hopkins Medicine has concluded that sedentary work has increased by 83% since 1953, causing many problems in its wake.

And in addition to sitting for long periods, we tend to sit in less than great positions which can cause the joints in our low back to wear down.

Such increased wear is a direct result of both the increased pressure our spine absorbs while we sit and the reduced nutrient uptake to our discs that occurs from lack of movement.

2. Sub-Optimal Posture

As you may have guessed, the conveniences of modern life have contributed to a dramatic increase the number of us living a mostly sedentary lifestyle.

We tend to sit more throughout our workdays and we tend to slump into our chairs with our heads and shoulders slouched forward and down as we do.

When you think about it, all the ways that sitting can affect our spinal health make it clear as to why it’s considered one of the primary causes of spinal and extremity.

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Slouching is not optimal for the body for any period, and especially not for eight or more hours day after day after day.

One great way to manage pain related to poor posture and to begin to correct the sub-optimal posture itself is to practice sitting up and towards the front of your seat.

Investing in a chair with added lumbar support or adding a lumbar support pillow to your existing chair is another terrific way to begin to address such factors contributing to your low back pain and to remedy a number of the causes of spinal and extremity pain at the same time.

Both of the above strategies will help keep you from slumping into your chair and go a long way towards improving your posture.

3. Improper Breathing

Another rarely discussed but common cause of spinal and extremity pain that can contribute to the development of low back pain is the failure of the muscles that help us breathe.

Here’s an example.

Many of us tend to suck in our stomachs and hold them in that position for extended periods of time, and when we do that, we limit our ability to get full breaths.

We breathe into our shoulders and low back and restrict our diaphragm.

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There should be minimal movement in the chest, shoulders, and lower back as we breathe.

Breathing properly means our stomachs will expand outward as we breathe in and contract inward when we breathe out.

Sneaky Causes of Neck Pain

1. Tech Neck

Chiropractors coined the term “tech neck” to describe a common diagnosis for teenagers with poor posture.

Most of us are aware that as we get older, the joints in our bodies experience some wear and tear.

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Recently, researchers have observed a significant increase in the number of teenagers with levels of joint wear normally seen in older adults, and this is thought to be the result of poor posture related to the use of mobile devices.

Most people most of the time will point their heads down towards their phones instead of bringing their phones and other mobile devices to eye level.

Using our devices in this position for extended periods of time often causes increased tension in the muscles in the front of the neck and weakness in the muscles in the back of the neck.

The muscle imbalances that result from this forward head posture place extra pressure on the upper back.

Scene Depicting a Young Woman Using Her Phone in Poor Posture, Another of the Leading Causes of Spinal and Extremity Pain
Causes of Spinal and Extremity Pain: Tech Neck

To rebalance these same muscles that are also associated with a number of common causes of spinal and extremity pain, it’s important to keep your head in a neutral position and to bring your devices up to a comfortable position where your head does not have to tilt forward.

Doing so has the potential to help you get back to normal quickly so you can feel better and move better all around.

2. Weak Neck Muscles

As mentioned above, weak neck muscles can also lead to pain and dysfunction.

One extremely common issue chiropractors see related neck pain as well as spinal and extremity pain is Upper Crossed Syndrome.

Defined

Upper Crossed Syndrome is characterized by overly tensed upper trapezius, levator scapulae, and pectoral muscles and overly weak deep cervical flexors and lower trapezius muscles.

Dysfunction of the neck muscles is often the result of imbalance – certain muscles are too tight on one side and too weak on the other side.

Similar to tech neck and many other causes of spinal and extremity pain, this can be remedied with a few simple adjustments.

The first simple adjustment you can make is to make it a habit to pay attention to your overall posture as you use your phone, computer, or other digitial devices throughout the day.

Then, take steps to strengthen those weaker neck muscles and to stretch those tighter muscles.

Corrective Exercises for Upper Crossed Syndrome
Scapular Retractions

Grab an exercise band with both hands and position it across your chest.

To perform each repetition, pull the band backward simultaneously on both sides while keeping your shoulders down and head back.

Woman Performing Scapular Retractions with a Resistance Band to Remedy Common Causes of Spinal and Extremity Pain
Causes of Spinal and Extremity Pain: Scapular Retraction Exercises
Prone Horizontal Abductions

Lay on your stomach on a bench or the floor, shoulders and elbows bent at a 90 degree angle.

To perform each repetition, push your arms back towards the sky.

Be sure to keep your shoulders down away from your ears, and to keep your head in a relaxed and neutral position.

Woman Performing Prone Horizontal Abductions to Remedy Common Causes of Spinal and Extremity Pain
Causes of Spinal and Extremity Pain: Prone Horizontal Abduction Exercise

Sneaky Causes of Shoulder Pain

Another section of the body that gets injured often and relatively easily is the shoulders.

The shoulders are a complex anatomical area with a broad range of motion and a large number of muscles, bones, joints, and nerves all condensed together.

Injury to any one structure of the shoulder can impact the others and lead to generalized shoulder pain.

1. Side and Stomach Sleeping

One of the common causes of spinal and extremity pain that can contribute to the development of shoulder pain is improper sleeping positions that put extra weight and stress on the shoulders.

The two sleeping positions most likely to cause pain and dysfunction in the shoulders include sleeping on the side and stomach sleeping.

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In either position, excess pressure is placed on the front of the shoulder where the vast majority of nerves are located.

This means you’re more likely to wake up sore or with a tingling feeling in your arms and hands.

2. Improper Lifting Posture

Another of the common causes of spinal and extremity pain and pain in the shoulders is poor lifting posture.

Lifting posture is important whether you lift weights at the gym or lift heavy objects at work or at home.

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Poor lifting posture can lead to multiple micro-injuries to the tendons, muscles, and ligaments.

The most common shoulder injuries include bicep tendonitis, bursitis, rotator cuff tendonitis, sprain and strain of the tendons and ligaments, and rotator cuff tears.

3. “Sholder Phone”

A lesser thought of cause of shoulder pain that ties back into one of the other causes of spinal and extremity pain we discussed earlier is – you guessed it – our phones, and, yes – we’re talking about tech neck again!

When you hold your phone up to your face for hours watching Tik Tok videos or scrolling through Instagram, you’re holding your shoulder in an awkward position.

A Young African American Man Holds His Phone Up By His Shoulders, One of the Common Contributing Causes of Spinal and Extremity Pain
Causes of Spinal and Extremity Pain: Shoulder Strain

Over time, you’ll most likely develop pain in your shoulder.

But wait – aren’t we supposed to bring our phones to eye level to help prevent neck pain?

Yes! And…

Know This

Another great way to help prevent neck and shoulder pain and to address several causes of spinal and extremity pain related to the use of our devices is to make sure we put our phones down throughout the day and get moving.

Make it a point to move your neck, arms, and shoulders through their full range of motion to help keep all the structures in your upper body working together well.

Sneaky Causes of Foot Pain

Our feet are another area of the body that many of us tend to develop pain and a worthy inclusion on our list of common causes of spinal and extremity pain because the feet are more complex than many of us realize.

If you think about all they accomplish in a day, you know they have to be complicated!

Each foot has 3 arches, 26 bones, 33 joints, and 100 tendons, ligaments, and muscles.

While all of these anatomical structures are important, those 3 arches are of the utmost importance.

1. Flat Feet

Structures made of triangles are substantial in terms of engineering.

And several components of our bodies are made up of triangular structures such as the arches in our feet.

Foot pain typically arises when one or more of these arches drop.

Toe raises, calf raises, arch lifts, and tennis ball rolls are helpful ways to strengthen your arches.

2. Sub-optimal Posture

Perhaps you’ve noticed a theme as we’ve explored each of these areas of the body and the associated causes of spinal and extremity pain – posture matters!

Know This

As with the back, shoulders, and neck, poor posture can impact your feet, so always keep an eye on your posture.

If you take away one thing from this quick guide all about common causes of spinal and extremity pain, make sure it’s just that.

Your body will thank you!

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