ZocdocAnswersWhat is referred pain?

Question

What is referred pain?

I have a pain in my shoulder that my doctor can't seem to explain and he mentioned something about referred pain being a possibility. What is referred pain?

Answer

Referred pain simply means pain that is felt in a body part that is actually not the body part from which the pain arises. This typically occurs because the nerves that feed some parts of the body also feed other parts of the body. Therefore, in theory, stimulation of that nerve in one part of the body (by a pain source) can cause the sensation of that pain in another branch of the nerve in a different part of the body. Referred pain in the shoulder is one of the more common types of referred pain. Some causes of referred pain to the shoulder are very serious. For example, a heart attack may be felt as referred pain to the should. Also, problems with the spleen, gall bladder, and other internal organs may be referred to the shoulder. Therefore, any time there is referred shoulder pain, especially if it is sudden or severe, these conditions have to be ruled out. More commonly, and less seriously, referred pain in the shoulder may be due to a musculoskeletal or nerve problem elsewhere. For example, pinched or inflamed nerves in the neck often will refer pain down into the shoulder. Talk to your doctor about what treatments you should use and about whether you might need referral to a specialist to help figure out what is going on.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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