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Piercings and Pain

Piercings and Pain

As strange as it may sound body piercing can, in some patients, have a big impact on muscle and joint pains.

Last week I saw a patient complaining of pain in her low back. During the examination bending forward was extremely limited (she couldn’t reach her knees) and provoked her pain. Before doing any other treatment she took out her belly ring and we retested to see if the ring was having any effect on her back complaint…  She bent forward again and to her astonishment she easily reached her toes and her pain was considerably reduced!

This certainly doesn’t happen in all cases but it is worth ruling out if you suffer with a chronic pain. 


How do piercings effect pain?


The exact mechanism isn’t completely understood but it is likely that piercing the muscle or overlying skin disturbs the function of the underlying muscle.  We know that scars situated over muscles can have a similar effect. 

If piercings disturb underlying muscle function it would fit that piercing certain muscles would have more of an effect on pain than others – and that is exactly what we see. Ear piecings rarely seem to cause an issue, whilst piercings of the tongue and the belly button are commonly found to be problematic. Given that both the tongue and the abdomen are extremely important areas for spinal stabilisation it’s logical that piercings in these area would have more of an impact on pain.

Belly piercing also seem to be more problematic in patients who already show signs disturbed abdominal stabilisation, such as an hourglass posture. It would appear that belly piercing may exacerbate the dysfunction.


The tongue


It may come as a surprise that the tongue isn’t just for eating and talking but also a very important stabiliser. The activity of the tongue is tightly integrated with the movement of the head and eyes. This can be first seen in babies at around 5 months of age. Before 5 months the only movement of the tongue is backwards and forwards, but after 5-6 months side-to-side movement of the tongue develops in conjunction with turning.  

We can also see the contribution of the tongue with turning in adults but usually only with high intensity efforts such as hitting a tennis ball.





How do I know if my piercing is causing pain?


In most cases this can be tested simply;

  1. With your piercing in, find one or more restricted or painful movements (such as turning your head or bending forward).
  2. Next, remove your piercing and repeat the movement(s) that were previously limited or painful.
  3. Finally, replace the piercing and repeat the same movements for a third time.


If the pain lessened or range of motion increased significantly when the piercing was removed and then returned when the piercing was reintroduced it is very likely that the piercing is part of your pain problem.  If pain or restriction in motion cannot be found with simple range of motion testing, more intensive postures or movements may have to be used such as squatting, lunging or single leg stance.  



What did you find? Let us know in the comment section below.



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This post was written by Steffen Toates. Steffen is a chiropractor at Dynamic Health Chiropractic in Jersey, Channel Islands. For more infomation about Steffen click here.


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I first attended due to pain in my lower back that I had had for over a year. It was my last resource, as I had tried a lot of things before but it was definitely the best thing for me. I felt listened to and taken seriously and I’m now more or less pain free. I can now do all the things I like again, like dancing and walking. That’s just great!

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