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  • Writer's pictureDr. Brian Lum

The Hidden Cause Behind Your Back Pain

Updated: Feb 2, 2022

Many people, even those in medical professions, have the idea that muscle pain can always be traced back to either a past injury or ongoing inflammation.

For example, if your back hurts. you must have strained it by sitting too long, by picking up something heavy, or your new workout must have thrown something ‘out of alignment.’

Alternatively, your body might be inflamed because of a chronic condition like fibromyalgia or arthritis.

While these classic explanations are often valid, there is another common origin of pain that is often overlooked - organ referred pain.

a man getting a soft tissue treatment. text overlay says the organ problem behind your back pain

Organ Referred Pain

Internal organ problems can refer pain signals to different sites in the body. Referred organ pain is well known to conventional and functional medicine, but in practice, it is often is missed. Identifying the source of your pain is crucial in treating it as treating the pain signal itself does nothing to address the internal problem.

A Gallbladder Problem

Let's look at a specific instance where something other than muscle trauma can cause pain. Often, I have patients come in with dull ache that 'comes and goes' in the region of the upper back/shoulder blade region.

They tell me they have been to doctors and acupuncturists and get regular chiropractic treatments and massages. Regardless of what they do, the pain returns, always in the same region.

After a preliminary evaluation, patient history, and symptom assessment - it turns out that the patient has compromised digestion. They have trouble with fatty foods, feel nauseous often, and often experience stomach upset after meals. All of these symptoms combined with their pain presentation point to a gallbladder problem.

Many times we can catch a gallbladder problem before it gets to the point of the patient having gallbladder attacks which can be excruciatingly painful.

As with every organ, there is a spectrum at which the gallbladder functions, just because something is in a ’normal range’ in a blood test does not mean it is operating as it should be.

If a gallbladder problem is severe enough then the dysfunction can be picked up by a standard blood test called a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP). Most gallbladder problems go undiagnosed for years because blood tests come back ‘normal’ and gallbladder attacks have not started.

How to Address Gallbladder Referred Pain

In this scenario, when the evidence points to a gallbladder function problem and functional medicine interventions have been implemented, the persistent neck/shoulder blade pain will go away because the pain never originated there in the first place.

The gallbladder is much more than the storage sack for bile; it is imperative for detoxification and digestion. Many people are having their gallbladders removed. Sometimes surgery is necessary, but often it is possible to reverse the problem before it gets to the point of surgical intervention.

When addressing a gallbladder problem, diet and lifestyle changes need to be implemented while treating the underlying detoxification issue. Gallbladders endure all the toxic waste material from the body and bare an enormous toxic burden accumulated over the years, and it will take time to help it regain normal function.

Another significant cause of gallbladder problems is poor dietary choices. Hormone imbalance also plays a role. Women who have experienced persistent symptoms of hormonal imbalance often have gallbladder problems. The liver and gallbladder are involved in 'cleaning' up excess hormones in the body.

If gallstones are detected, some people try a ‘gallbladder flush' on their own using olive oil and other ingredients. Gallbladder flushes are very dangerous. It can cause gallstones to become lodged in the duct creating an emergency situation.

So if you have been experiencing persistent pain in your neck or shoulder blade area that never fully resolves - it may be coming from your gallbladder. A full functional medicine evaluation can determine if there is a hidden issue behind your pain.

Other Organ Referred Pain

Other organs can refer pain to different areas of the back. For example, mid back pain can be referred pain from the stomach, and a chronic low back problem could be stemming from the kidneys or liver.

If you are experiencing persistent back pain despite treatment, you may want to consider getting a functional medicine evaluation as it will assess the many possible causes of your pain including musculoskeletal issues, organ and nerve problems.

If you would like to speak to me to ask questions about functional medicine, pain or how I can help you, please schedule a Free 15 Minute Consultation or call or text my office at 913-728-5291.

My clinic offers functional medicine appointments as well as manual chiropractic treatments. I do online consultations for those out-of-state or outside of the United States.


If you think that you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.  No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information. Nor should you ever delay seeking medical advice or treatment due to the information contained on this Website.


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