Most Frequently Referred Areas of Pain and What They Mean

Do you have shooting pains down your leg when you go for a walk? Have you ever been walking and felt an odd sensation in your arm or hand? What your body is experiencing could be referred pain. While it's not always a cause for alarm, it can be symptomatic of a dangerous illness.

What precisely is referred pain, and how can you know if you have it? This article will discuss the most frequently referred areas of pain and what they mean.

What Is Referred Pain?

Referred pain is a type of pain experienced in an area of the body other than the location of the painful stimulus (called the "indicated" area).

The indicated area is the part that is injured or experiencing the pain. The referred pain is in an area distant from the actual cause of the pain. Usually, the pain is in the head or neck, which is why it can be mistaken for a simple headache at first.

Causes Of Referred Pain

There are several reasons a person can feel pain in an area other than where the pain is coming from.

To understand how this happens, you should know that there are nerve pathways in the body where the pain impulses are transmitted or "travel" to the brain. These pathways are called "neural pathways."

The neural pathways are like a nervous information highway. A message (the pain impulse) travels down the neural path to a destination.

Sometimes, the message of pain is sent to the wrong place. Instead of going to the area where the pain is originating, the message is sent to an area close by.

Some of the neural pathways are short and direct, while others are long and complex. These longer, more complex neural paths are the ones that are most often "mistakenly" used by pain impulses.

The more extended and complex the neural pathway, the more likely that an incorrect message will be sent to a non-injured area.

Common Referred Areas for Pain

Five areas of the body are most often referred to for pain:

  • Arm/hand
  • Leg/foot
  • Lower back
  • Upper back
  • Head/face

The part of the body experiencing the pain is called the "indicated area." The preferred area is the area experiencing pain that is not caused by the indicated area.

Treatment for Referred Pain

Some types of referred pain are not treatable, but many types can be eased with the proper treatment.

Heat and cold are two common treatments used to treat referred pain. Heat can loosen tension in the muscles, and cold can reduce swelling and inflammation.

A doctor or therapist will recommend specific modalities (heating and cooling methods) to help your particular type of referred pain.

Some of the most common medications prescribed to treat referred pain include:

  • Anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen)
  • Steroids
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Skeletal muscle relaxants

Although many types of referred pain are not treatable, many effective treatments are available. Don't suffer in silence. Ask your doctor or therapist for help.


Referred pain can be very frustrating. You may not always know what is causing your pain and what you can do about it. It is a common symptom, but the treatment and prognosis will depend upon the underlying cause of the pain. This is why you should consult with a healthcare professional.

Trigo Chiropractic provides the chiropractic services you require to alleviate a variety of pains and problems. Contact us today if you are seeking a chiropractor in Huntington Beach to treat your lower back discomfort.

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