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Are our bodies crazy? They give us toothache when there's something wrong with our heart and earache when we should see a dentist. As we'll find out, there are rational reasons behind all our weird mixed messages. You just have to know where to look.

Ask for a Neck Massage When You Get a Headache

Many headaches are cervicogenic, caused by muscular problems with the neck. That means that, before you reach for painkillers, try massage or ask a trusted friend to massage your neck for you. Pain Science recommends you massage under the back of the skull, in the centre. You can reach this yourself. It's very soothing.

What about Ice-Cream Headaches: The ultimate mixed message. The cooling and warming of the capillaries, those tiny blood vessels in the back of the throat, send a message to the brain. This is confused with a jumble of other messages passing along the nerves and the brain can't unscramble them correctly, perceiving the pain as coming from your forehead. To cure your ice-cream headache, press your thumb to the roof of your mouth (like you're sucking your thumb). Your Mileage May Vary as to whether you want to do this in public.

When a pain in your back comes from your front

Back pain could be a sign of pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is where your pancreas is inflamed, and is most common in heavy drinkers (although there are other causes, such as infection or medication). In pancreatitis, the pain radiates into the back.

Back pain is frequently caused by kidney pain. It may be hard to tell the difference between pain caused by a kidney problem and pain caused by a back problem (such as muscular strain). A key way to tell the difference is that:

  • Back pain caused by a muscle injury is typically lower
  • Back pain caused by kidney problem is located nearer to the ribs, and deeper
  • Pain caused by kidney pain will frequently come with other signs such as: nausea, fever, abdominal pain, and/or painful or scanty urination.

Pepperoni Pizza and Pelvic Pain

If you love curries and other spicy food, I have some bad news for you. David Klumpp, researcher at Northwestern University, found that eating spicy food worsens pelvic pain.

In what has been dubbed the "Pepperoni Pizza Hypothesis", the researchers found that spicy food (and citrus fruits, caffeine, alcohol, and even tomatoes) contain a chemical that irritates the colon, and gets into the urine (aggravating the bladder). The chemical aggravates pain signals: the signals that send messages from the bladder, which (in patients with interstitial cystitis) send messages of constant pain back to the brain; pain messages are also sent from the bowel to the spinal cord.

Northwestern researchers believe that part of the problem lies in the bunching of the nerves in the pelvic region. Klumpp says:

"The convergence of these two information streams could make these...symptoms worse,"

These pain signals make pelvic pain worse, exacerbating a painful bladder condition called interstitial cystitis (a condition where 90% of its patients are women, and which causes sufferers to urinate up to 50 times a day). Avoiding spicy food could also improve the lives of women with Endometriosis, as approximately 71 - 87% of women with pelvic pain have endometriosis, with endometriosis being the cause of pelvic pain in many adolescents.

This is just a quick look the most common mixed messages, ways in which our brain and spinal cords mix-up signals. Researchers are still discovering new mixed messages and referred pain that we don't know about.

Who knows what we'll discover about referred pain in the future.

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