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Referred pain, in simple terms, is pain that occurs in one area but is felt somewhere else. The area of the symptoms doesn’t always identify the structure at fault. This can happen for a number of different reasons and can be identified through a thorough examination. This will include questions about the onset and behaviour of your pain, any injuries that may have preceded, as well as the quality of your pain and a description of how your pain feels. This may then be followed up by sensation and movements test in order to determine the origin of your pain and what factors make your pain worse or easier. 

What is an example of referred pain? 

Examples of referred pain could be an underlying shoulder problem causing pain into the elbow, neck problems causing headaches in different regions, or hip problems causing pain into the knee. This is why education of movement and the relationship between body parts is so important. The more central the problem, the more chance you have of experiencing referred pain. E.g. If the source is in the foot, you’re unlikely to experience referred pain. 

What is somatic referred pain? 

Somatic referred pain is pain originating from the skin, muscles and other soft tissues. Not to be confused with visceral pain, which is pain referring from internal organs (viscera) but presents as pain in regions supplied by the same nerve roots. 

What’s the difference between referred pain and radiating pain? 

There are some differences between the two terms but, in reality, they are often used interchangeably. They both indicate pain felt somewhere away from the problem, but they elude to different sources. Referred pain is often due to muscular or joint pain and not always felt locally, whereas radiating pain often comes from a nerve root and has particular pattern of distribution. You may feel pain locally, at the source, as well as further away (i.e. the knee, ankle of foot). Nerve root compression is also known as radiculopathy, whereas damage to a nerve further away from the spine is known as neuropathy. 

What causes referred back pain? 

Back pain is extremely common and, more often than not, will resolve itself. Low Back Pain is often known as non-specific back pain, meaning there is no specific underlying cause. Referred back pain can be caused by issues at the spinal column; nerve root compression (radiculopathy), vertebral disc damage (discogenic) or facet joint irritation (arthrogenic). It’s also important to know that these three issues can occur together and often do in the elderly. As well as these three issues occurring directly at the spine, you may also get referred pain from supporting muscles around the spine. This may be due to damaged muscle, shortened and overactive muscles, or weakened and inefficient muscles. 

What does radiating pain feel like? 

As mentioned earlier, part of the challenge of identifying the source of pain is to ask questions regarding the description of your pain. A description of your pain can be a huge indicator for us and immediately help us rule out certain structures that may be involved. 
 
If your pain is coming from a nerve or a nerve root, you may describe or experience your pain as been a sharp, shooting, or lightning like pain. Muscular pain may present as a dull ache, whereas bone may present as a nagging, deep, and dull pain. While there is some crossover, and the therapist should not take the pain description into consideration by itself, it can greatly influence the rest of the assessment. 
 
If you’re feeling referred pain we may be able to assess the root cause and treat you.Book an appointment today and we’ll get you on your way to recovery. 
Tagged as: pain, referred pain
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