What is referred pain?

A common question we hear in clinic is "What does referred pain mean?", and it's quite a valid one as it can be quite confusing! 

Put simply, referred pain relates to pain felt in an area which is elsewhere from the source of the pain, the pain originates in a different part of the body. This confusing occurrence is caused by a network of sensory nerves that all connect. These nerves join with each other in the spinal cord and signals passing through a small number of these nerves can get confused. This triggers sensations in parts of the body that are supplied by the same nerve but that don't have anything wrong with them. Sciatica is a great example of this, often people experience pain and symptoms in their leg, but the root cause is often a lower back problem, however the nerves all join the spinal cord at roughly the same area and sometimes signals get confused.

 Is referred pain always from the skeletal system?

 There is another style of referred pain, known as viscero-somatic pain. The viscera is another name for the internal organs of the body, and soma means all the bones, joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments of the body. It's well known that in some diseases, the organs can cause pain which is felt in the body, such as chest, neck, and shoulder pain in a heart attack. As before, the actual source of the pain isn't where it's felt, as the brain isn't used to receiving such strong nerve signals from the heart and confuses them to be coming from the skeletal system instead. (It's worth noting here that not all left chest/neck/arm pain is heart related! It's often due to musculoskeletal issues and osteopaths are highly trained to spot the difference. If in doubt, seek medical help asap).

What is referred pain like? 

Referred pain can often be described as a dull ache that is difficult to pinpoint but can vary significantly in intensity. Commonly, pain from the organs is very diffuse, but in the case of sciatica, it can be extremely severe!

When suffering from lower back issues, pain is often felt in the buttock and down the back of the leg in a pattern we know as sciatica. Sometimes, this pain is due to a nerve being 'trapped' in the spine, but it can also be due to tight spots in the buttock muscles sending pain to the area. 

I think I have referred pain, how can you help me? 

When you visit us with pain that appears to be spreading, we always take a thorough case history to fully understand how your pain is affecting you and to find out where it is coming from. We then use a detailed examination to confirm our suspicions and to help formulate an effective treatment plan that is unique to your own needs. We will always refer you to the appropriate further care, such as your GP or A&E/Urgent Care, should it be needed.

Why not give us a call on 01933 624323 or book in online and find out how we can help your pain? 

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