By Dr. Carla Garcia
All of us have aches and pains at one time or another. Pain is a message from the body telling us that we are hurt. The injury may be severe and obvious; but oftentimes we can’t see it, we can only feel it. Although it doesn’t seem so at the time, knowing that you have sustained some type of injury is a good thing. It is the body’s message sending an alert to you in hopes that you will avoid repeating the injury. The vital function of pain is to trigger avoidance.
But . . . what if you have pain and don’t know what caused it? It hurts but you don’t remember an injury. This is called “unexplained pain” or in medical terms “idiopathic pain” (pain of unknown origin). I laughingly say, “the idiots (myself included) don’t know what is causing it”. This is where thermography can help.
Pain is often related to inflammation, bruising or nerve damage and there are no outward signs, like bruising or swelling or an open wound. All we know is that we are feeling pain. Thermography records the temperatures being emitted by the body and it assigns different colors to different temperatures. In most thermography images, red indicates hot, and blue indicates cold. Red or hot areas may be an indication for inflammation, lymphatic congestion, estrogen dominance or neovascularity (new blood vessel growth that accompanies tumor growth). Inflammation is the most common cause of heat seen on thermography. It often shows up in areas that are NOT painful. An example would be an injury in the shoulder that is causing neck pain. The shoulder doesn’t hurt but the neck does. Knowing where there is inflammation helps you to seek proper treatment. In this case, you would treat the shoulder to help the neck.
Burning pain is most often associated with nerve pain and there is no visible inflammation/heat associated with it. Nerve pain can be a lack of circulation, muscle entrapment or a pinched nerve. This will usually look cold or blue on a thermographic scan. Neuropathy is an example of burning pain but there is no visible inflammation and the hands and feet look cold on a thermogram.
Knowing where to treat provides the best treatment outcomes. This is why thermography is gaining acceptance in the medical community for imaging areas of heat or cold that may correlate with unexplained pain.
The hand on the right (left hand) is cold due to RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy also known as CRPS Complex Regional Pain Syndrome). Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome (RSD) is a disorder that causes lasting pain, usually in an arm or leg, and it shows up after an injury, stroke, or even heart attack. But the severity of pain is typically worse than the original injury itself. This above RSD was successfully treated with acupuncture. Note the image below.
The inflammation on the left shoulder is obvious; but the person was complaining of neck pain, not shoulder pain. By knowing there was inflammation in the shoulder, the practitioner was able to treat the inflammation in the shoulder and reduce the reported neck pain.
The same color scale is applied to more commonly known breast thermograms. Heat can be indicative of breast dysfunction and cold is commonly associated with cystic or dense tissue.