One of the most common questions that physiotherapists face is “What is referred pain?” The name suggests a strange problem, one that doesn’t relate to a specific area. Put simply, referred pain is pain felt in an area that does not seem to have any relation to the problem.
The mechanism of referred pain is thought to be the nerves from the tissue or organ where the problem is ‘mixing’ with the sensory nerves where the pain is felt.
The pain felt with referred pain is usually deep, and it is difficult to pinpoint where the exact location is. At times, however, referred pain can result in numbness, pins and needles or tingling in areas of the body.
There are many conditions that involve referred pain. A very common example is headaches, in which pain is referred to the base of the skull, the top of the head, the forehead, or to the temples. The source of the problem with headaches is most often the joints or muscles of the neck. Pain sensations travel through the nerves between the neck and head, and confusion in the nerve pathways results in pain being felt in the forehead, or temples.
Physiotherapists are specially trained to locate the underlying source of pain, and restore proper function to the area.
The aims of the treatment are:
- Reduce inflammation
- Improving movement of the joint
- Relaxing painful muscle spasm
- Strengthening weakened muscles
The treatment may involve stretching and massage techniques to tight and tender muscles, gentle mobilisation techniques and manipulation of the effected joints and the use of ultrasound or interferential modalities.
You may also be given exercises based on your personal need and fitness level. Supervised exercise-programs have been shown to be far more effective than unsupervised programs.