Understanding the Differences Between Muscle Pain and Nerve Pain with Dr. Brandon Claflin 

All pain is awful. No matter where it is in your body, you want it gone. Pain prevents you from doing activities that you love, takes over your thoughts, and impacts every part of your day – and night. 

Doctor Brandon Claflin of Oklahoma

My name is Dr. Brandon Claflin, and I live in Oklahoma. My mission is to help you drop the pain and gain the life you want. Everything about my education, training, and practice is about spine and pain management. I am a board-certified physical medicine and rehabilitation physician with subspecialty board certification in Pain Medicine. In addition, I am a fellowship-trained spine and pain management specialist who focuses on conservative treatments such as physical therapy, medications, and spinal injections to diagnose and treat pain. 

Please take a moment to learn more about my practice at OKspinepain.com.

For a glimpse into living life where you can manage your back pain—and not let your pain manage you—please see interview below with Guidelines Health.

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Pain Management 101 

Our bodies are amazingly functional. However, our world is tough on them—causing injury, pain, and illness. It’s no surprise then, that sometime during our lives 80% of adults suffer from lower back pain: dull aches, stabbing sensations, stinging.   

Finding the root causes of muscle and spine pain is complex, but possible. Before discussing muscle vs. nerve pain, let’s start with the basics. For answers, we contacted Dr. Brandon Claflin of Oklahoma to share his expert advice. He expressed that it takes a team to provide optimal solutions for each unique patient; which is why he closely collaborates with neurologists, psychologists, orthopedic and spine surgeons/neurosurgeons, physiatrists, oncologists, psychiatrists, physical/occupational therapists, and chiropractors.

Spine and back pain do not live in silos and can’t heal with a one-treatment-fixes-all approach. Dr. Claflin begins his treatment process by being somewhat of a detective. His approach is to, “Start with history. When did your pain start? Was there an injury? New activities? A detailed history is important. Then I will do an in-depth physical exam and focus on the area of pain. I’m looking for everything from a limited range of motion and a decrease in mobility, to evidence of nerve injury. To evaluate patients for other disease processes, typically there are some imaging studies involved: X-rays, MRTs, and lab work, including blood work.”

For each of his patients, Dr. Claflin creates a tailored treatment plan that may include physical therapy, medication, and spinal injections. If nothing else will provide the desired result, only then will he suggest surgery. 

Muscle Pain

Muscle pain, also known as myalgia, originates from the muscle tissue and related connective tissues. Most people understand muscle pain as muscle aches and soreness after a hard workout or trying a new activity. Some people may experience delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) six to twelve hours afterward, which can lasts up to 48 hours. Sometimes, however, muscle pain can be a sign of overuse, diet, injury, infection, or illness. 

What it feels like: Muscle pain feels different for everyone. Common feelings include aching, throbbing, stabbing, pulling, or tearing in a specific spot, or all over the body. The pain may be relatively constant or activity-dependent. 

What causes it: There are numerous reasons why people experience muscle pain. Here are a few:

  • Using new muscles: After skiing or even running after a long break from it, a person will most likely feel soreness in the legs and conceivably all over. This is because the body has not used particular muscles in a while and needs to build them up. Note: please make sure to always warm up and cool down properly to prevent pain and injury.
  • Injury: Muscle pain indicates a sign of injuries such as tendinitis, broken bones, back strains, and overuse.
  • Autoimmune diseases: Lupus, multiple sclerosis (MS), and polymyositis are some examples of autoimmune diseases that can cause muscle pain.
  • Infections: Bacterial and viral infections such as the flu, Lyme disease, malaria, and even the common cold can make muscles feel achy and sore.

How to treat it: According to Dr. Brandon Claflin of Oklahoma, when common home treatments (rest, icing, taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil) do not work, it is time to see a qualified interventional pain physician. When seeking the correct pain physician for you, it is important to find out if they are board certified, an active member of a pain society (where they learn the latest approaches), and have the appropriate training. Dr. Claflin creates a unique treatment roadmap for each patient and consistently reevaluates along the way. Some of the treatments he may provide include radiofrequency ablation (RFA), epidural steroid injection (ESI), and medial branch block injection. 

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Nerve Pain

Nerve pain often results from a problem in the central nervous system, which is made up of your brain and spinal cord. This system controls the nerves that run from the brain and spinal cord to muscles and organs. Most of the time, however, pain is a symptom of a disease or injury. 

What it feels like: Nerve pain feels burning, shooting, sharp, or tingling. It could also feel like hot or cold water rippling down your skin. Sometimes nerve pain can make people sensitive to touch or cold temperatures. This type of pain tends to be chronic, meaning it can last six months or longer. 

What causes it: Nerve damage and inflammation are two major causes of nerve pain. A few examples of what causes nerve damage and inflammation are listed below: 

  • The Central Nervous System: Result of a stroke, spinal cord injury, or tumors. 
  • Peripheral Nerves: They may become painful due to damage caused by alcoholism, diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, and viruses like Lyme disease. In addition, direct trauma to the nerve (disc herniation, surgery, injury) and chemotherapy or radiation treatments can cause nerve pain. 
  • Dysregulation of the Sympathetic Nerves: This can cause complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).

How to treat it: Treating nerve pain is another one of Dr. Claflin’s specialties. He recommends to first start with home treatments. For mild, non-chronic pain, sometimes familiar over-the-counter painkillers like aspirin and ibuprofen work. A warm, relaxing bath can increase blood flow and relieve stress, relieving mild pain. Omitting alcohol, as it is toxic to the nerves and increases pain, should also be included in your regimen. People with diabetes must always stay current with prescribed medicine(s), as normal blood sugar levels prevent diabetic nerve pain.

If nerve pain is chronic and more severe, consulting with a pain specialist is necessary. Dr. Claflin investigates a patient’s medical history and lifestyle and then customizes a specific spine and pain management plan for that patient. A treatment example could include epidural steroid injection (ESI). ESI is a minimally invasive treatment to relieve low back-related leg or neck-related arm pain and can diagnose a specific nerve root problem. Another option could be a medial branch block, which is an injection of anesthetic medication into the nerves that transmit pain information. Most people enjoy a pain-free life for a few years after each shot.

Being able to manage muscle and nerve pain is possible. Don’t accept a life of pain. Contact a muscle and nerve pain expert near you today, to start your pain relief journey. If you are in the Oklahoma area, Dr. Brandon Claflin is ready to help.