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What is referred pain?

Have you ever felt a headache when you pressed on your neck muscle? Or felt pain in the lower back or the back of the thigh when pressed on your buttock?

This phenomenon is called referred pain. Referred pain is pain perceived at a location other than the site of the painful stimulus/ origin. It is the result of a network of interconnecting sensory nerves, that supplies many different tissues.

Our sensory system is very complex and interconnected. Each part of our body is covered with sensory nerves, and some would interconnect with organs or muscles near that area. Pain signal travels through our sensory nerves to the spinal cord, then to the brain. Our brain will process and map out the signal according to the sensory nerves that carries it. Pain is not a sensation, but a perception created by our brain. Perception means the interpretation of sensory signals. And because the sensory nerves are interconnected, our brain might think the signal is coming from the other area instead of the site of stimulus, hence we will perceive pain in another area instead.

Here is an analogy. Imagine you and your friends are playing a game. All your friends were divided into 2 groups, team Red and team Blue. Team Red would paint their hand red, and team Blue would paint their hand blue. You were not in any group and you would be blindfolded. One of your friends would tap your shoulder and the game was for you to guess who touched you.

You would know the team that touched you because the paint would be on your shoulder, however, you could not be sure who was the person that touched you within that team. Therefore, you could only try your best to guess that person. Same goes to the pain signal processing in our brain. Our brain knows that the pain signal is coming from that sensory nerve, however, the brain is confused about the origin site of the signal because the sensory nerves are interconnected.

If you have any questions regarding this post, please feel free to comment below or send us a message on any social media.


The post is not supposed to replace any medical advice. If you are experiencing any pain, please consult a therapist as soon as possible. You may contact us or make an appointment at 905-771-8882 or, we are more than happy to help!

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