What you should know about referred pain.
05 March 2015
Referred pain is a term used to describe the phenomenon of pain perceived at a site adjacent to or at a distance from the site of an injury's origin. In other words, in some situations, you may have a problem in one place (for example, your neck) but feel pain in a different place (for example, in your shoulder and/or arm).
What is the mechanism behind referred pain?
The neurology behind referred pain is complex and is still not fully understood. However, one explanation is that of convergence in the spinal cord. The pain conduction nerves from different parts of the body coverage in the same or an adjacent area in the spinal cord. When nerve impulses arrive from one area of the body (e.g. the neck) the brain is unable to differentiate these signals from those of the adjacent nerves. (e.g. the shoulder and arm) entering the spinal cord, and so you “feel” the pain in both areas (neck, shoulder and arm). This pain is felt in the shoulder and arm even though the problem is only in the neck.
Examples of referred pain.
There are many other examples of referred pain. Often heart attacks can cause arm pain; your neck can cause a headache, and your back can cause pain into your leg, chest or abdomen.
What it means to you.
Pain can be a “great liar” in that you can easily be confused about what is causing your pain.Having ongoing treatment on your shoulder, when you really have a neck problem, can be a waste of time and money. It is always best to have your problem thoroughly assessed so that the proper treatment can be initiated.