, Gloucester, MA

October 19, 2012

On the Mend: Aches and pains can be tied to organ system, too

On the Mend Joe DiVincenzo
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The older you get, the more likely you are to experience the wide variety of aches and pains life has to offer.

But not all pain is the result of a mechanical problem in a joint. Each of your organ systems are capable of producing pain signals that radiate to other areas, mimicking a number of common orthopedic conditions.

So how do you know if an organ is the source of your pain? Read on to see some of the signs and symptoms you need to watch for that could require swift medical attention.

Gallbladder attacks cause pain in the upper right side of the rib cage and in the right shoulder. They can occur at any point, but most often after eating a meal – especially one that’s high in fat. If you have any nausea, queasiness, stomach cramping or discomfort at night, you should be seen promptly.

Testicular and gynecological issues often refer pain into the stomach. Stomach pain that persists for days may be more than a case of disagreeable bowels. Conditions like endometriosis, ovarian cancer, testicular tumors and cysts are all serious and could be life threatening if not mitigated with the appropriate treatments in a timely manner.

Numbness and tingling in the hands doesn’t necessarily mean you have a pinched nerve in your neck. Pancoast tumors are cancerous masses that originate in the apices of the lungs, which are anatomically next door to every major nerve pathway in the arm. Smokers and industrial laborers make up a distinct majority of these cases, but you’re not out of the woods just because you’ve yet to pick up a cigarette – there are carcinogens everywhere in our environment. Watch out for burning back pain, fever and chills and pain that worsens at night.

The heart can refer pain into a vast number of different places. The jaw and the left arm are key spots for men, while pain in the upper back is found more commonly in women. A feeling of chest pressure will likely accompany this pain, but it isn’t always intense – sometimes it’s described as minor discomfort or a feeling of being unwell – a pain that wouldn’t warrant immediate attention. But if it’s accompanied by shortness of breath, severe pain, nausea, vomiting or other serious signs, you’re likely dealing with a life and death situation.

Problems in your liver are typically manifested by dull aching pains in the abdomen, specifically on the right side. A rash, itchy skin with discoloration and dark circles under the eyes are all indicators that your liver may be in tough shape. If you have a history of drug or alcohol abuse – even if it’s in the remote past – you need to get checked out at the first opportunity, as damage to the liver adds up quickly and may be irreversible.

Low back pain could be originating from your kidneys. In the immediate vicinity, the kidneys are more than capable of give you a crippling case of low back pain. Painless range of motion of your back, painless forward bending or pain that’s difficult to provoke are all clues that would lead you to believe your back is not the culprit. If you suspect it’s your kidneys, been on the lookout for more worrisome signs like loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting and trouble with urination.


Gloucester resident Joe DiVincenzo is a physical therapist and clinical specialist in manual therapy. He writes “On the Mend” weekly. Questions may be submitted by email to