Oh! My Aching Back! Colitis And Back Pain
Colitis is indeed an ailment of aches and pains—some quite characteristic and some very confusing. Among its symptoms is a wide variety of sensations, varying all the way from an insistent weariness to an unceasing hunger somehow not connected with appetite. Then too, many of the aches, pains and other symptoms which really have their origin in colitis have by error or by neglect been misinterpreted and assigned vague, if not meaningless terms, such as lumbago, sciatica, and “neuritis.” Even the broad term of arthritis has been used to describe some of the pains arising from the conditions associated with colitis.
Lest the reader gain the impression that I scoff at the terms of arthritis and neuritis, perhaps I should explain that the manner in which the public uses these terms is not always consistent with the way the medical profession understands them. True arthritis is a definite inflammation of a joint. True neuritis is a definite inflammation of a nerve. However, the public in general have used both these terms rather loosely to describe pains and aches in and around a certain area or along the course of a nerve, and this hardly does justice to the facts in the case.
In an endeavor to bring order out of chaos, the accompanying diagram is submitted to indicate the usual places where pain is felt as a consequence of colitis.
The most constant of these colitis pains is one usually felt in the left lower part of the abdomen. Usually it is fairly well confined to that area, but at times it may spread over the entire lower abdomen. In character, it is a cramp-like, sharp, gripping pain and is observed to usually precede or follow the passage of a movement or of gas. It is caused by a forceful spasm in the descending colon; the spasm having been induced by the passage of some irritant substance along the surface of the inflamed, and hence super sensitive, wall of the colon.
Almost as characteristic as this is the frequent occurrence of backache—a condition with which many people, I am sorry to say, are too familiar for comfort.
Few symptoms in the long list of chronic ailments have been treated in so varied a manner as this. Any doctor who has practiced medicine over a period of years can tell you there are instances in which a misplaced womb was blamed for the ailment and an abdominal operation performed to correct it; he can relate to you of cases believed to be due to spinal arthritis and subjected to an operation on the spine for the correction of it; elsewhere I have described the innumerable cases in which backache has been believed to be due to “kidney trouble” and treated accordingly. Such is the wide variety of diagnosis and the equal extensive variety of treatments. It is amazing that what, in my opinion, is the real cause of a large percentage of cases of backache has been so consistently overlooked, namely, diseases of the colon and rectum.
Many of my colleagues, looking back over their experiences with cases of this type, can recount “remarkable cures” of backache by a treatment no more complicated than correcting a case of constipation due to chronic colitis, intestinal stasis, or internal piles.
Perhaps it will help you to understand how diseased intestines may cause backache if I were to tell you something of the arrangement of the nerves in these parts: The nerves to the intestine and the nerves to the skin are arranged somewhat like a party line telephone. Suppose you were a telephone operator who had charge of the wire making such a party line. Suppose also that there were two subscribers on this line, the one we shall call “colon” and the other “skin.” When either one of these subscribers sends through a call, a light shows up on the switchboard, but you would not know which one of the two was speaking until you asked him or recognized his voice.
Now if it happened that subscriber “skin” put through ten calls a day, whereas subscriber “colon” only made one call a week, who would you naturally suppose it was when the light showed up. As a matter of habit, you would immediately think that “skin” was making another call. If, however, it happened to be “colon” calling, you would have made an error simply because of the habit you had formed of regarding most of the messages that come over that line as being from “skin.”
Now it happens that this is just the same condition of affairs to which I refer in the foregoing. The skin sends in so many more signals daily than does the colon or rectum that in time our minds come to consider almost every signal that it gets from this “party line” as having come from the skin. And it, too, makes an error as to the party signaling. In medical language we say that the signal or pain is mis-referred. But in plain language, we simply make a mistake as to the party calling. It is in this way that when the colon and rectum become diseased, and send up signals of distress, that the mind recognizes these as pain but makes the mistake of thinking that they are coming from the skin simply for the reason that this is where such signals usually do come from. This is the explanation of many cases of backache, lumbago, sciatica and various other vague pains in the hips and throughout the leg.
Knowing now the manner in which all this happens, you can readily understand why the conditions I have mentioned refuse to yield to the various forms of local treatment such as liniments, baking, and electricity. Not until the causative colon or rectal disease is corrected will we get a cure for such cases. On the other hand, if the colon or rectal disease is eliminated, a cure which appears miraculous may be accomplished. It is well to bear these things in mind when we hear of a person who has been suffering from backache or sciatica, and in whose case none of the usual remedies seem to have met with success. Every such case should have a thorough examination of the colon and rectum. Otherwise the suffering one has not been done full justice.
Headache is not usually thought of as being a symptom connected with the presence of colitis. Yet the fact remains that it very frequently is. Usually it is of a type known as a frontal headache located over the forehead and is of a dull, insistent character. Not infrequently, it is also associated with a pain over the left side and back of the neck. In many instances, this headache is associated with the presence of low blood pressure, which may, of course, account for the headache. Here is one instance where it is highly unwise to fall into the habit of taking an aspirin or other “headache pill” primarily for the reason that the underlying condition is one that is apt to be of long duration. You can readily understand, therefore, that you are in danger of forming the habit and what is more important, you are placing in the food digestion canal a substance that can and frequently does add to the irritation. Dizziness may accompany the headache and this, along with the frequent occurrence of the headaches, should convince you that your family doctor should be consulted, since they both are Nature’s warning that there is something radically wrong.
Aside from the backache and headache described above, many people suffering from colitis complain of vague leg pains. These may originate in the lower part of the back known as the sacrum and extend down the back of the leg, or they may merely run down the back of one leg. Usually these are what are called mis-referred pains. Their cause is in the distressed condition of the colon but the nerves make the error of referring the pain down the leg in the manner described on page 276. Frequently such cases are diagnosed as sciatica, neuritis, phlebitis, or arthritis.
It must be borne in mind that pain is an indicator of disturbed function. Its interpretation falls within the province of those technically qualified to practice medicine. I mention this so that you will not fall into the error of thinking that any chart, such as I have published here, can be an invaluable guide to diagnosis. Such schematic drawings should be construed not as a map of fact, but of probability.
Yet the fact remains that many backaches, headaches, and leg pains of obscure region do arise from disorders of the colon. This is pointed out to spare the victims of such aches and pains the danger of symptomatic treatment. Simply treating the symptom with a pain killer such as aspirin, aminopyrine, or salicylates, gets the patient nowhere except deeper and deeper into the morass of his misery. The sensible course to pursue is to identify the cause of the pain, a course much to be preferred to obliterating it. What would you think of a man who knocked out the red light of a danger signal and then drove full speed ahead? The answer is a four-lettered word starting with N and ending in disaster! Oh! My Aching Back! Written By: J. F. Montague, M.D., Continue Reading: I Know a Man Who Was Cured of Colitis