“Referred pain” can be a perplexing phenomenon for anyone who experiences it. It refers to feeling pain in an area that is not the original source of the pain. The most common example of referred pain is pain in the left arm, neck or jaw but not the chest after suffering a heart attack.
It’s important to note that referred pain is different from radiating pain. The latter is when your pain travels down a nerve, causing pain along the length of the nerve. This is often the case with sciatica, as pain originates in the lower back and radiates down the leg.
Researchers are still not exactly sure what causes referred pain. Some experts believe that it is due to a mix-up in nerve messaging. The central nervous system (CNS) is constantly receiving a barrage of different messages from different parts of the body. Researchers therefore think the messages get confused somewhere between the irritated nerve and the spinal cord or brain. With such an extensive network of interconnected sensory nerves serving the same region of the body, mixups could be more common than we think.
Although referred pain is usually painful, patients may also experience numbness, tingling, or the sensation of pins and needles. Another example is a tension headache. This refers to headache pain caused by irritation of the nerves in the neck.
Referred pain tends not to cross sides of the body. In other words, if the pain signals are originating in the liver or gallbladder (which are on the right side of the body), you may feel pain in your right shoulder. If the signals originate in the pancreas (on the left of the body), you may feel pain in your left shoulder, etc.
Chiropractic adjustments can address the source of the referred pain, leading to long-term pain relief. Then, with the source restored to its natural state, your referred pain will end as well. Overall, your chiropractor understands which tests to perform in order to determine the underlying cause of pain. Whether your pain is direct or referred, he or she can treat it accordingly.