Decoding Unexplained Pain: What You Need to Know for Diagnosis and Treatment

It can indeed be a very frustrating experience to be passing through pain your doctor can’t find an explanation for. You may even become especially annoyed when you start hearing statements like “it’s all in your head.”

At times, when medical professionals can’t explain a medical phenomenon, they end up concluding it’s a case of seeing a problem where none exists. The idea that a medical problem is imaginary may be true, but not always.

The above picture probably fits your case. If it does, then you need to read this article to the very end to know some possible causes of pain doctors can’t explain and what you can do to fight it.

About Unexplained, Chronic Pain and Causes

Medical professionals often use the term “somatization” to explain the reason behind medical problems they cannot find a physical cause for. The idea behind this tallies somewhat with the argument that the problem is one in the head that needs getting over.

These experts say that some people have a higher level of sensitivity than the average person. As a result, they are more sensitive to changes in the body. They are more likely to pick even the slightest of pain sensation.

Essentially, unexplained pain is not something you may need to worry about despite the discomfort you may be experiencing.

A significant proportion (about 30 percent) of complaints primary care physicians often have to deal with are unexplained medical symptoms, including pain. Up to 20 million people in America are thought to experience nerve pain and there are no specific causes in most cases.

Complaints about this problem are more common among those older than 40 years.

It is known, however, that nerve damage is a factor in the incidence of pain sensation. Researchers think that it may also be the factor to blame for the so-called unexplained pain.

According to a 2013 study in Pediatrics reported by Science Daily, nerve damage may be responsible for widespread, chronic cases of unexplained pain in children. Test results showed patients had small-fiber polyneuropathy.

The condition, which hadn’t been reported before then, exhibits extensive damage to the nerve fibers that carry pain signals.

Different factors can cause this damage, which may be responsible for unexplained pain in adults as well.

Factors Contributing to Nerve Damage

The damage to nerves that causes pain sensation can result from a variety of conditions. It may also be a consequence of toxins and medications.

Autoimmune disease

Autoimmune diseases are among the leading causes of nerve damage that may lead to pain that your doctor can’t explain. These are disorders characterized by an immune system fighting against healthy body tissue, cells, and organs, mistaking them for harmful invaders. People with these diseases typically experience significant inflammation, which poses serious health risks.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), up to 22 million people in the United States have these disorders. There are more than 80 different forms and women are mostly affected by them. They are believed to be more common these days than they were decades ago.

The most common of these conditions include the following:

Rheumatoid arthritis – With this disorder, the white blood cells attack the lining of the joints. This results in inflammation, pain, redness, and warmth. Damage can become so significant to the extent of the affected person becoming limited to a chair. Sadly, rheumatoid arthritis cannot be cured but can be managed.

Lupus – An estimated 1.5 million people have this autoimmune disease in America. The condition, which can be rather difficult to diagnose, involves attacks on tissue, cells, and organs. As a result, Lupus can cause damage in different parts of the body, including the joints. Hair loss, anemia, and easy bruising are some of the symptoms.

Diabetes – We specifically mean Type 1 diabetes here. This is an autoimmune disease in which autoantibodies attack the beta cells of the pancreas. As a result, too little or no insulin is produced, leading to elevated blood glucose levels. Pain, fatigue, and unexplained weight loss can be experienced because of this.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – This describes autoimmune disorders of the digestive system, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The immune system of a person with IBD reckons normal intestinal bacteria as harmful invaders. This causes it to do damage to the gastrointestinal tract. Abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding are among possible symptoms.


At this time, this condition remains a rather mysterious one, to an extent. There appears to be no definite conclusion on whether it belongs among the autoimmune diseases or not. It has no exact cause, for now.

Recent advancements have helped researchers to discover that fibromyalgia may be responsible for some of the cases of pain doctors can’t explain.

Fibromyalgia has been found to be a chronic condition belonging to central nervous system disorders. It makes sufferers be extra sensitive to pain all over their body. Fatigue and sleep difficulties are some of the other problems patients may have from it.

Fibromyalgia was probably responsible for some of the cases where doctors say the problem is in the head. Before now, people with the disorder are treated somewhat with stigma.

It is not very easy to detect fibromyalgia – the right diagnosis may take years. It is possible that some doctors have misdiagnosed the disorder due to this difficulty.

Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital found evidence of nerve damage in roughly half of a group of people with fibromyalgia in a 2013 study.

Miscellaneous factors

There are numerous factors that can result in pain sensations. This most likely explains why doctors often find it hard to explain patients’ pain.

The following are some conditions on the lengthy list of these factors:

  • Trauma
  • Celiac disease
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection
  • Vasculitis
  • Elevated blood cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Certain cancers, including lymphoma
  • Amyloidosis
  • Obesity
  • Lyme disease
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency

Certain medications that you take may also cause nerve damage and be responsible for your unexplained pain. They include some of those used in the treatment of cancers and HIV infections.

Vitamin B6 may bring about nerve damage, most likely when taken in very high doses. High alcohol intake is also a risk factor.

Unexplained Pain and Depression

It has been observed that most people who experience pain that doctors can’t explain tend to suffer from depression. You may agree that it is easy to understand why. This is a problem that can impact every aspect of a person’s life after all.

However, the nature of the relationship isn’t exactly clear-cut. You may think of this as a chicken-egg relationship. While some argue that the pain causes depression, the reverse is the case for others.

Either view is correct, in a way.

When someone has mood disorders, such as depression, there is a high likelihood of them developing chronic pain. A person with unexplained pain, on the other hand, is at a greater risk of being diagnosed with depression down the line.

For instance, researchers have found that having either fibromyalgia or depression could increase the risk of developing the other.

Some experts think that pain doctors can’t explain may have biological processes in common with depression. Inflammation, in particular, appears to be a common feature.

Treatment Suggestions

The hardest part of the effective treatment of pain doctors can’t explain is probably the diagnosis. The approach to this will differ depending on what your doctor suspect to be the underlying cause. Methods of diagnosis include blood tests, urinalysis, X-rays, colonoscopy, and flexible sigmoidoscopy.

Once you have a diagnosis, the following approaches are what your doctor may suggest for treatment.


These offer the primary treatment options for pain doctors can’t explain. You will hardly leave the office without pain relievers when you visit a medical professional to complain about pain.

In many cases, prescriptions are for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil). Codeine or other opioid analgesics may also be suggested for patients. Antidepressants or anticonvulsants are used in some cases as well.

For people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, such as methotrexate, may be essential. These can be useful if the condition, along with its joint damage effect, worsens.

There are also newer biological response modifiers patients may find helpful when other treatments don’t work. These include Humira and Enbrel.

Dietary changes

Medications alone are not likely to suffice for effective treatment of unexplained pain. You need to also pay due attention to what you eat.

It is important to ensure your diet includes adequate amounts of vital nutrients. Among these are omega-3 fatty acids, which you can get from foods such as fish, eggs, and spinach. This class of essential fatty acids fights inflammation that can result in pain.

Probiotics, including yogurt, and turmeric are also useful for fighting inflammation. You will also benefit from increasing the amount of vitamin D in your body, as this may help reduce cytokines that cause pain.

Certain foods you eat can aggravate conditions that can worsen unexplained pain. They include alcohol, sugars, chocolate, and processed foods. You should avoid or, at least, limit the intake of such.

Lifestyle modifications

Your lifestyle choices may be a factor in the seeming unexplained pain you may be having. For instance, if you are less active or maintain a sedentary lifestyle, you may be at risk.

You should strive to be more active. Make efforts to increase the number of steps you take daily. Walk or use the stairs, instead of a lift, if you have no need to hurry.

Having a regular workout schedule can help you to get over or manage pain your doctor can’t explain. Exercise promotes the release of “feel good” substances known as endorphins, which offer a good means of combating pain and depression. It also lowers cytokines.

Quality sleep

Control of unexplained pain is another good reason you need to ensure you sleep long and well enough every night. There are numerous benefits you get from doing this.

Research has shown that people who sleep for longer hours at night tend to have less pain sensitivity. This can also boost your mood, possibly making you less likely to pay attention to pain sensation.

It might not seem easy for some patients experiencing unexplained pain to get restful sleep. But there are measures that can still be taken to promote this. These include limiting screen time and avoid caffeine intake close to bedtime.

Natural remedies and supplements

There are herbs and natural ingredients that may help you to deal with pain your doctor can’t explain.

A good example of such herbs is white willow bark. Some people call it “nature’s aspirin.” It helps to control inflammation, making it potentially useful for fighting unexplained pain.

Another herb that may be helpful is Boswellia. There is evidence that it is beneficial to people having osteoarthritis pain. This possibly means it could benefit those having pain doctors can’t explain as well.

These herbs and several others can often be found on the label of commercial products, going by what you see on the labels. They are used for making supplements and topical solutions, which may be beneficial for the treatment of unexplained pain.


There are numerous conditions or factors that can give rise to pain doctors can’t explain. Inflammation is a common factor in many of the disorders that can cause this. It also appears to play a role in the occurrence of depression, which patients often exhibit.

There is no treatment that is universally effective for unexplained pain. But the approaches mentioned above should help, especially when combined. In addition, those having this problem should make effort to control stress and anxiety.

Even if it appears your doctor can’t explain the pain you are having, you still need to work closely with him. It is important to detect the underlying condition before further, and possibly irreversible, damage is done by such.




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