Aches and pains that could be serious

Suspect something ominous? Consult this list, and then see your doctor.
© Men's Health // © Men's Health

A headache is usually just a headache, not an aggressive brain tumor. But persistent or recurring pain could signal a more serious problem lurking within your body. (Know what symptoms warrant a trip to your doctor: Learn the 7 pains you shouldn’t ignore.)

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Your foot hurts

Secondary symptom: Mild pain in the back of your thigh

One hidden cause: Herniated lumbar disc

Diagnosis: Even if your back feels fine, pain in your foot can mean your sciatic nerve, which snakes from your lower back to your foot, is pinched by a herniated disc. "It can be coupled with feelings of pins and needles in the leg," says Loren Fishman, M.D., an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University.

Prevent it: Work your abs. Hunching puts your lower back at risk of wrenching, says Dr. Fishman. Strengthening the abs boosts your ability to maintain good posture.

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Your calf hurts

Secondary symptom: Redness and swelling in the  area where you feel the pain

One hidden cause: Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

Diagnosis: As many as half a million Americans are diagnosed with DVT annually, but thousands of cases go unreported, especially among younger desk jockeys. "Since the pain is similar to a cramp, men write it off," says John Laird, M.D., medical director of the vascular center at the University of California at Davis.

Prevent it: Drink water. Keeping hydrated (8 ounces every 2 hours) during long sitting spells ensures healthy bloodflow and prevents clotting, says Dr. Laird.

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Your neck and shoulders hurt

Secondary symptom: Severe, throbbing headaches

One hidden cause: Lyme disease

Diagnosis: Chances are good you won't know if a pencil-point-size tick latched onto you this summer. That's why many cases of Lyme disease are reported in the fall and winter, when serious symptoms set in. Early indicators of Lyme include neck stiffness and migraines due to the onset of meningitis. (Want to know how vaccines work—and why they're so important? Here's The truth about vaccines.)

Prevent it: Swallow garlic. According to a study, soldiers who took 1,200- milligram capsules daily repelled ticks significantly better than those who didn't.

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Your jaw hurts

Secondary symptom: Audible clicking sound when you open and close your mouth

One hidden cause: Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)

Diagnosis: The key symptom of TMJ is acute jaw pain when you open your mouth, says David Hellmann, M.D., chairman of the department of medicine at Johns Hopkins.(Diagnose every pop, crack, and whistle before they become something worse with these 6 weird body noises explained.)

Prevent it: Put your jaw in neutral. Instead of clenching your teeth when stress strikes, place your tongue behind your upper front teeth, as if you're going to say "N."

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Your mid-thigh hurts

Secondary symptom: Leg's skin color lightens when pain strikes

One hidden cause: Claudication, or acute cramping

Diagnosis: "The burning leg pain you feel from DVT occurs during sedentary periods. The pain from claudication is similar but only occurs when you're walking or exercising," says Dr. Laird. The pain is caused by arteries narrowing in your upper legs, cutting the amount of blood and oxygen that reaches your muscles. (Learn these 6 health warning signs you can't ignore.)

Prevent it: Pop some pecans. A recent study in Nutrition Research found that eating a handful of vitamin E-packed pecans daily helps prevent arteries from narrowing.

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Your biceps hurts

Secondary symptom: Loss of balance

One hidden cause: Parkinson's disease

Diagnosis: Chances are slim that you'll develop Parkinson's. Fewer than 40,000 Americans are diagnosed each year. But a clear—and confounding—early indicator is long-term pain in both biceps, says Gordon Gilbert, M.D., a professor of physiology and molecular pharmacology at the University of South Florida. (Your workout could be all wrong. Ditch these 4 moves trainers hate.)

Prevent it: Hit the gym. A Harvard study found that men who work out regularly are 40 percent less likely to develop Parkinson's.

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