So weird! Simultaneous pain in big toe and stomach!
March 23, 2012 7:32 PM   Subscribe

Crazy, weird phenomenon: since I was a little kid (I'm now almost 52) I have occasionally experienced an extremely sudden, acute sort of spasm--more like a very acute, kind of painful itch--simultaneously in the tip of my big toe and on the skin of my lower abdomen. It will last fractions of a second, but usually reoccur up to 5 or 7 times maybe within the next few minutes. Then nothing for maybe a couple of months. The feeling is definitely located on my skin, not deeper, like a muscular thing. It's very pin-pointed and specifically located. It's quite uncomfortable, almost painful, though very, very quick. It's sudden and acute enough to make me gasp and grab my stomach and my toe in reaction. Obviously this is not a big problem. I'm writing because it's so very strange, and I have never known anyone else to experience this. In fact, if I'm ever bold enough to ask someone, they just laugh in disbelief: "your toe AND your stomach!?!" I know! I mean, how on earth are the big toe and the skin of the abdomen related? So, the question is: anyone else ever experience this weirdness?
posted by primate moon to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Someone here mentioned this a few days ago: there are dermatromes, areas of the skin that are typically served by the the same bundle of spinal nerves. As a total amateur, it sounds to me like the skin of your toe and abdomen must be served by the same nerve ganglion.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:47 PM on March 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Something like that occurred to me, Lobster, but I didn't know anything about it. Thanks for the info and the link.
posted by primate moon at 7:59 PM on March 23, 2012

oops, I spelled it wrong; should be "dermatomes"!
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:00 PM on March 23, 2012

Yep, you probably are having a back spasm or have a slipped disc or something that occasionally irritates the nerve. This happened to me when I had back problems--I would get pain down my leg to my toe, and also feel like a hot, electrified wire was wrapped around my waist.
posted by elizeh at 8:35 PM on March 23, 2012

Response by poster: No back, problems, Elizeh, and I've been experiencing it as long as I can remember.
posted by primate moon at 8:41 PM on March 23, 2012

I have the same (or a similar) thing from time to time, on my right side. I assumed what LobsterMitten found, that the areas are served by the same nerve, and some random physiological process or spasm or whatever else causes random pains occurred in that nerve, causing me a short pain or twinge in both those areas.

There are other feelings that make the seemingly nonadjacent coverage of nerves obvious - sometimes stretching wrong will mirror a pain in my upper arm to my wrist. The feelings that come with certain emotions sometimes spread out from my chest, then jump to my hands before they reach my shoulders.

It think it's nothing more to worry about than any other random twinge or brief pain, it just happens to be along a shared nerve.
posted by WasabiFlux at 9:53 PM on March 23, 2012

I sometimes get a muscle twitch in my right thigh (near the surface and visible) that without fail comes with a twitch in my right ear, inside, that I guess make the ear drum sort-of flap or crinkle? Anyway, I can hear the ear twitch because of the way it moves the hearing apparatus. It's annoying as fuck, and it's been going on since I was at least six years old. I remember rubbing at the twitchy bit of thigh and an adult said, leave it alone, it'll stop on its own, and I replied, I can't, its making my ear hurt, and the adult reponded with fairly impolite disbelief.

No idea at all what causes it, but it happens to me too!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:56 PM on March 23, 2012

A friend who knows a lot about anatomy once told me that nerves in the abdomen are closely packed and signals can sometimes get crossed. She told me this after I ended up in the emergency room over an appendix scare that was on the wrong side. She said the pain signals can manifest some place close by the actual problem. Perhaps this phenomenon is part of the issue. I think everyone has this sort of thing happen to some degree. Get ready for some TMI: when I have sore nipples from PMS, I get a sympathetic ache in my top back molars. Go figure.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:33 AM on March 24, 2012

An acupuncturist might have an explanation.
posted by megatherium at 3:35 AM on March 24, 2012

Megatherium has it. Just google foot reflexology. There are dozens of pressure points in the foot associated with other areas of the body, especially the abdomen.
posted by chasles at 4:38 AM on March 24, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all your interesting responses. God, the body is a weird thing!
posted by primate moon at 7:15 AM on March 24, 2012

The phenomena is called Referred Pain. Here' wikipedia on the topic. The most famous referred pain is:
the case of ischemia brought on by a myocardial infarction (heart attack), where pain is often felt in the neck, shoulders, and back rather than in the chest, the site of the injury.
Trigger Point Therapy is a fully scientific (though young) therapy modality which makes heavy use of the map of referred pain patterns.

I would advise against googling reflexology on this topic since, I quote,
A 2009 systematic review of randomised controlled trials concludes that "The best evidence available to date does not demonstrate convincingly that reflexology is an effective treatment for any medical condition."
I would also be careful before drawing much from acupuncture since even though...
The National Health Service of the United Kingdom states that there is "reasonably good evidence that acupuncture is an effective treatment" for nausea, vomiting, osteoarthritis of the knee and several types of pain.
... the mechanism are unknown, and the current line of investigations have nothing to do with referred pain pattern. I quote:
The mechanisms underlying pain relief from insertion of needles are unknown, but it has been suggested that it may involve recruitment of the body's own pain reduction system, possibly attended by an increased release of endorphins, serotonin, norepinephrine, or gamma-aminobutyric acid.[1][159]
posted by gmarceau at 8:22 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

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