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What is referred pain?

Referred pain: What is it and how can I manage it?

What is referred pain?

Referred pain occurs when pain presents in one area but the cause and origin are located elsewhere. This occurs due to sensory nerves being impacted with too high or low a signal being sent through the central nervous system.

The central nervous system sends messages to soft tissue, bones and organs throughout the body, potentially impacting these areas. Referred pain can be reported as; an ache, deep pain, pins and needles, numbness, or as pain in a specific area. Alternatively, you may get referred pain due to muscles or even your organs.

What are the common types of referred pain?

There are common types of complaints which include referred pain, such as; headaches, low back pain and knee arthritis.
Headaches can be referred pain from tight muscles or nerves at the base of the skull, around to the top of the head, temples and the jaw with the symptoms originating from the joints or muscles within the neck.

Experiencing pain in the back of the leg could be due to the irritation of the sciatic nerve in the lower back. Alternatively, low back pain can refer into the hip, groin, leg(s) or further up your back.

Arthritic changes occur when cartilage within the joint wears away. For example; within the knee, pain can be referred around the knee or in other areas of the leg due to the exposure of nerves within these areas.

Muscles may refer pain. Typically from trigger points within the muscle belly due to overuse or underuse. This could be because of poor posture, lack of movement or abnormal movement patters. Trigger points have distinctive referral patterns throughout the body.

Organs within the body can also refer pain. This is often described as a deep ache. This pain often won’t have a set pattern and you can experience pain far away from the affected organ. For example; the heart causing pain in the neck and/ or arm.

To help find the cause or to manage your referred pain talk to your physiotherapist at Caboolture physical therapy centre who can help manage your symptoms and answer any questions that you may have.

Caboolture Physical Therapy Centre – serving people in need from the following areas: Caboolture, Morayfield, Elimbah, Wamuran, Beerburrum, Beerwah, Glasshouse Mountains, Toorbul, Donnybrook, Ningi, Woodford, Kilcoy, Bribie Island, Goodwin Beach, Sandstone Point, Banksia Beach, Bongaree, Bellar, Woorim, Burpengary & Beachmere.


Kaye graduated from the University of Queensland in 1983 with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy. She worked in Canberra, Sydney, London, Lincoln and Redcliffe before starting her first practice in 1989. More about Kaye

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