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The truth about referred pain

On May 30, 2012
By Dr. Nekessa Remy | 0 Comments

Patients are often confused as to why when they come to my office with arm or shoulder pain do I begin my examination in the neck. The reason is referred pain is a common source of pain. So what exactly is referred pain?

Referred pain results when a nerve is irritated or injured. When this happens, often the entire length of the nerve communicates pain signals to the brain, even though the actual injury site is limited. In other words, pain can be referred because signals from several areas of the body often travel through the same nerve pathways in the spinal cord and brain.

A common example is sciatica caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve from a low-back injury such as a bulging or herniated disk. Although the injury site is in the lower back, the victim feels pain down the outside of one or both legs, often to the toes. This pain is usually a burning sensation, perhaps accompanied by tingling.

Herniated or bulging disks aren’t the only cause of sciatica; sometimes a muscle spasm or excessive tightness in the lower back or buttocks can irritate the sciatic nerve, causing referred pain down a leg. Another common example is that of a heart attack. Often one of the first signs of a heart attack might be pain in the left arm. This is due to the fact that the heart and the some of the muscles and skin in the arm are innervated by the same nerve root. So pain in one area may be interrupted by the brain as pain in another area.

Arthritic changes or disc conditions in the vertebrae of the neck or are common source of referred pain. Symptoms include:

• Radiating pain into the arm, neck, chest, and/or shoulders.

• Numbness or tingling in fingers or hands may also be present.

• Muscle weakness.

• Poor coordination, particularly in the hands.

Depending on what level the problem is occurring (meaning at which cervical vertebra), the pain and weakness will be experienced in different areas.

Referred pain should not be ingnored. Treatment will usually invovle a combination of soft tissue therapy, spinal mobilizations and laser therapy or acupuncture.

For more information contact Mississauga Chiropractor Dr. Nekessa Remy at drremy@thechiropracticoffice.ca

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