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What is Referred Pain and How Can You Treat it?

by Princeton Orthopaedic Associates

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What is Referred Pain and How Can You Treat it?

by Princeton Orthopaedic Associates

Orthopaedic physicians often deal with what we call "referred pain." Referred pain' is a common yet often misunderstood. Referred pain is a type of pain perceived at a location different from its source. While primary pain is felt directly where it originates, referred pain can seemingly mislead the sufferers about the actual location of their issue.

This referred pain becomes particularly relevant in orthopaedics when diagnosing orthopaedic conditions. A classic example is the pain experienced during a heart attack, often felt in the left arm or jaw, despite the issue originating in the heart. Understanding referred pain is crucial in distinguishing symptoms and reaching accurate diagnoses, thereby informing appropriate treatment plans.

Various conditions can cause referred pain, including inflammation, neck pain, back pain, and general illness. For example, pain from a heart attack might be felt in the left arm, while gallbladder issues can cause pain in the right shoulder. Symptoms of referred pain can include aching, burning, or tingling sensations, and the location of the pain can make diagnosis more challenging.

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Referred pain is a type of pain that is felt in an area of the body that is different from its actual source. Unlike normal pain, which is felt directly at the site of injury or inflammation, referred pain seems to be located in a seemingly unrelated area. This phenomenon occurs because certain nerves in the body transmit signals from multiple body parts to the brain, causing the brain to misinterpret the origin of the pain.

Let's put it in simpler terms - if you hit your elbow and you feel pain there, that's primary pain. But, if you experience discomfort elsewhere, such as in your fingers, that's referred pain. The nerves convey the pain message like a telephone line, sometimes confusing the brain about the pain's origin.

What You Should Know About Referred Pain:

  1. Referred pain and primary pain are not mutually exclusive. A single injury can cause both types of pain simultaneously.
  2. Pain location doesn't always indicate the source of the issue.
  3. Referred pain can often originate in the neck and back and is often caused by nerve entrapment or inflammation of the neck or lower back, or lower spine.

Tips for Treating Referred Pain:

  • Accurate Diagnosis: Seek professional help for a proper diagnosis. An orthopedic specialist will consider the possibility of referred pain when assessing your condition.
  • Physical Therapy: Specific exercises and treatments can often help alleviate referred pain. A skilled physical therapist can guide you through targeted exercises to manage your symptoms.
  • Pain Management: Over-the-counter or prescribed pain medications may be helpful. However, always consult a healthcare provider before starting any new medication.
  • Mind-Body Techniques: Practices like mindfulness and meditation can help manage the discomfort associated with referred pain.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and good posture can all contribute to managing and preventing referred pain.

And as a patient, knowledge about referred pain can guide you toward appropriate help and self-care strategies, bringing you one step closer to relief.

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