"Shooting pain" in lumbar radiculopathy and trigeminal neuralgia, and ideas concerning its neural substrates

Ruth Defrin, Silviu Brill, Itay Goor-Arieh, Irene Wood, Marshall Devor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Patients with radicular low back pain (radicular LBP, sciatica) frequently describe their pain as "shooting" or "radiating." The dictionary meaning of these words implies rapid movement, and indeed, many sufferers report feeling pain moving rapidly from the lower back or buttock into the leg. But, others do not. Moreover, the sensation of movement is paradoxical; it is neither predicted nor accounted for by current ideas about the pathophysiology of radicular LBP. We have used a structured questionnaire to evaluate the sensory qualities associated with "shooting" and "radiating" in 155 patients, 98 with radicular LBP and 57 with trigeminal neuralgia, a second chronic pain condition in which shooting/radiating are experienced. Results indicated a spectrum of different sensations in different people. Although many sciatica patients reported rapid downward movement of their pain, even more reported downward expansion of the area of pain, some reported upward movement, and for some, there was no spatial dynamic at all. The velocity of movement or expansion was also variable. By cross-referencing sensations experienced in the sciatica and trigeminal neuralgia cohorts with known signal processing modes in the somatosensory system, we propose testable hypotheses concerning the pathophysiology of the various vectorial sensations reported, their direction and velocity, and the structures in which they are generated. Systematic evaluation of qualitative features of "shooting" and "radiating" pain at the time of diagnosis can shed light on the pain mechanism in the individual patient and perhaps contribute to a better therapeutic outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)308-318
Number of pages11
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2020


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