A head to toe doctors guide to those random aches and pains

When it comes to pain and discomfort around your body, it is fairly common practice to just take a couple of painkillers and get on with our day, ignoring the pain until it eventually subsides.

However, these random aches or pains could be down to more than just sleeping in an awkward position or a gym injury! General Practice Doctors at London Doctors Clinic are here to break down exactly what those random aches and pains across your body could mean, and what you should do if you ever experience any of them.

Head

Let’s start from the top, headaches. There are several factors which may lead to different types of headaches or migraines:

  • Stress: Stress is a very common trigger for tension headaches; these are generally identified by a dull pain and tightness or pressure around your head. They can be at the front and sides or go around your head like a band. These headaches can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several days. The best ways to reduce tension headaches are to exercise regularly, ensure you get enough sleep, improve your posture and drink plenty of water.
  • Inflammation of blood vessels: this is generally more common in those aged 50 or over, and it can be identified by throbbing over the temples and is more common in women.
  • Migraines: These tend to be on sided, sometimes following a warning of flashing lights or zig zag lines in your vision. They can last all day, cause nausea/vomiting and can be quite debilitating.
  • Other headache triggers include: Sinusitis, tooth ache, changes in glasses/contact lens prescriptions

Neck

If you experience a tense or stiff neck it may be caused by:

  • Stress: Neck pain can be the extension of a stress headache and the methods mentioned above may help to reduce the symptoms.
  • Osteoarthritis: which is caused by general wear and tear of the neck as you age.
  • Muscular issues: It can also be muscular related to bad posture or a desk-based job!

Shoulders and Arms

There are lots of triggers that can cause pain in the arms or shoulders:

  • Injury: Shoulder pain or discomfort is most commonly caused by injury, including dislocation or inflammation of muscles, tendons or ligaments. Some people may experience ‘frozen shoulder’ also known as Adhesive Capsulitis, which occurs when the shoulder is stiff and painful. Similarly, trauma or injury surrounding your elbow will likely cause discomfort in that area.
  • Infection: An infection from a nearby wound may also cause joint pain, so it is important to seek medical attention if you suspect this is the case.
  • Tennis Elbow: Another common cause of elbow pain is ‘Tennis elbow’ which is usually a repetitive strain which causes damage to tendons around the elbow and is a result of overuse of the joint. To reduce swelling from tennis elbow you should ice the elbow and take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen or aspirin. It is also worth using an elbow strap when exercising to prevent further injury.
  • Pinched Nerves: Numbness or pain that travels down the arm could be caused by Cervical radiculopathy, also known as a “pinched nerve”, which is where a nerve in the neck is compressed or irritated.

Back

Back pain is very common and there the factors that lead to back pain include:

  • Poor Posture: This is common with office workers who may not have the correct posture when sitting at their desk all day.
  • Injury or trauma: The impact of injury, whether old or new, can be lasting and sometimes affect your sleep. Back pain can also arise from muscle spasms or a prolapsed disc.
  • Overuse: General wear and tear or osteoarthritis as you age can also result in back pain.

Chest

Chest pain can be caused by various factors including:

  • The heart: If you experience a pressure or squeezing sensation in the central chest especially when exercising, it may be a sign of Coronary Artery Disease. This is where a blockage in the heart blood vessels causes reduced blood flow and oxygen levels in the heart. This pain is known as Angina and can generally be relieved by rest. While Angina typically doesn’t cause permanent damage, it could be an early indicator of a heart attack. The symptoms of a heart attack are much more severe than that of Angina, and you may experience a crushing pain in the centre or left side of the chest which is not relieved by rest.
  • The lungs: Coughing a lot, or shortness of breath could indicate a lung related cause for chest pain. Asthma, COPD, chest infection, a clot in your lungs can all cause this.
  • Other Causes: Chest pain may also be caused by the muscles, tendons, ribs in the chest. Rib injury can be very painful and can impact your breathing. Muscle strain can be caused by excessive coughing which can injure or inflame tendons/muscles between the ribs.

Stomach

Stomach pain can have various causes. The pain could be associated with cramping, nausea/vomiting, bloating and constipation or diarrhoea.

 

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome: irritable bowel due to no disease as such but an overactive or underactive bowel can cause stomach ache. This has many other symptoms associated with it.

 

  • Gallstones: pain mainly in the right upper abdomen, which generally causes people to experience nausea, and sometimes vomiting and dark urine. Your doctor will use an ultrasound to diagnose gallstones, but only if you are experiencing pain or discomfort will you need treatment. Most of the time you will pass gallstones without noticing.

 

  • Acid reflux: or Indigestion is another common cause of stomach ache. This is typically worse after that curry or a heavy night of drinking.

 

  • Indigestion can also be caused by eating too quickly, eating too much or eating lots of spicy, greasy or fatty foods. Smoking, drinking too much alcohol and some medicines may also increase the risk of indigestion. The symptoms include:
    • Feeling full during a meal and not being able to finish a normal sized meal
    • Burning feeling in the stomach
    • Excessive gas or belching.
    • Severe vomiting
    • Unexplained weight loss
    • Trouble swallowing
    • Passing black stools

If you have any of the above symptoms you should speak to your GP, they may recommend antacid medications or lifestyle and dietary changes.

Hips

Hip pain may stem from:

  • Osteoarthritis: which is caused by aging joints, injury or obesity and could result in stiff joints or general joint pain. In this case you doctor will recommend physiotherapy, pain relief, losing excess weight and, if necessary, may refer you to a specialist to discuss the need for a hip operation.
  • Bursitis: which is an inflammation around the hip joint, which often presents as pain when laying on one side, on certain movements. Anti-inflammatories are helpful here.
  • Infection: Less common is joint pain caused by infection, which affects either the joint or the bone. If you ever experience joint pain and a fever simultaneously you should speak to your GP as soon as possible.

Legs

The legs are a very large area of the body, and discomfort can stem from various areas.

  • Injury: Probably the most common and frequently damaged large joint in the body is the knee and the pain generally stems from injury or wear and tear.
  • Infection: Pain can also be referred from different areas of the body, including the back hips and calves or could be the result of an infection or inflammation.
  • Sciatica: Pain stemming from the back into the legs and sometimes associated with pins and needles can be sciatica. This is where the sciatic nerve is trapped or inflamed. This can be managed with physiotherapy and painkillers but sometimes requires a scan of your back or specialist input.

Feet and ankle

Your ankles are very complex joints and any pain can be caused by various factors. These may include:

  • Instability, a simple strain, arthritis, tendonitis, a fracture.
  • Gout: If you experience sudden severe pain with redness of the skin, particularly over the ankle or big toe it may be a symptom of gout or pseudogout. These are inflammatory conditions which will leave the skin red, hot and the joint will be swollen. This can easily be diagnosed by your GP and in these cases, you will be prescribed anti-inflammatory medication and your doctor will advise that you drink plenty of water, ice the joint and avoid any stressful activities. 

While the issues mentioned above may be an indication of what may be causing those random aches and pains, there may be a different factor causing it. If you are ever concerned or experience anything unusual or uncomfortable, please contact your GP or seek medical attention.

 

 

Written by the Clinical Team at London Doctors Clinic

Reviewed by Dr Daniel Fenton and Dr Preethi Daniel, Clinical Directors at London Doctors Clinic