What are Common Causes of Referred Pain?

Angela Johnson
Angela Johnson
A woman with referred pain in her neck.
A woman with referred pain in her neck.

Referred pain presents itself in a location of the body that is different from where the originating injury or source is located. The most common causes of referred pain include a pinched or compressed nerve, sinus infections, or sometimes major organ issues such as angina or heart attacks. The intensity of this type of pain can vary according to the individual, and may also vary depending upon the area of origination. Identifying the cause of the pain can be cumbersome, but may be done successfully by evaluating other symptoms or performing X-rays.

A heart attack can be one source of referred pain.
A heart attack can be one source of referred pain.

There are several different types of referred pain. For instance, sinus inflammation or infections can oftentimes present as pain in the teeth or gums. Many people experiencing this type of referred pain initially consult a dentist. After X-rays and an evaluation, if dental issues are ruled out, the dentist may suggest a possible sinus infection or inflammation. In cases like this, it is not uncommon to be referred to a medical doctor for further evaluation and diagnosis.

A common effect after a limb has been amputated is phantom limb pain.
A common effect after a limb has been amputated is phantom limb pain.

A common cause of back, neck, or shoulder pain is a compressed nerve. This condition can sometimes be difficult to diagnose; it is typically experienced by adults over age 50, although symptoms can be experienced at any age. A common indication that shoulder pain is caused by a compressed nerve is an absence of pain when the shoulder is moved around in different positions. Additionally, a person may also feel numbness or tingling in the hands or arm. A pinched nerve, or cervical radiculopathy, occurs when the root of a nerve is injured.

Neck pain associated with heart attack is considered referred pain.
Neck pain associated with heart attack is considered referred pain.

A common effect after a limb has been amputated is phantom limb pain. This is a type of referred pain that is experienced in the location where the amputated limb once existed. This type of pain can be excruciating and is felt by close to 80 percent of all amputees. Although the reasons for this pain are unknown, researchers believe that it can be caused by nerve endings at the amputation site sending mixed messages to the brain. The brain perceives these messages as pain. There are special therapies for those who experience phantom limb pain including mirror therapy, which tricks the brain into visualizing that the missing limb is still attached to the body, and this can send messages to the brain that somehow relives the pain.

More serious conditions such as angina and heart attacks can cause referred pain in the neck, arm, and jaw. The pain radiates from the heart area and tends to occur more commonly among women than men. Additional warning signs that this pain is indicative of a heart attack include shortness of breath, breaking out in a cold sweat, dizziness, and chest pain. A medical doctor can use these symptoms to help diagnose the medical condition.

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    • A woman with referred pain in her neck.
      By: Yuri Arcurs
      A woman with referred pain in her neck.
    • A heart attack can be one source of referred pain.
      By: Dan Kosmayer
      A heart attack can be one source of referred pain.
    • A common effect after a limb has been amputated is phantom limb pain.
      By: HBK
      A common effect after a limb has been amputated is phantom limb pain.
    • Neck pain associated with heart attack is considered referred pain.
      By: nebari
      Neck pain associated with heart attack is considered referred pain.