Referred Pain & Radiating Pain: What's The Difference?

We explain the difference between referred pain and radiating pain and give

Kim Le

April 8, 2023

Many people experience pain that radiates out from a certain point in their body. But what’s the difference between referred pain and radiating pain? Referred pain is caused by something else in the body while radiating pain is caused by an issue or problem with the tissues or nerves in the area where it’s felt. Knowing which type of pain you’re experiencing is important because it can help your doctor to diagnose the source of your problem. In this blog post, we explain the differences between referred and radiating pain in more detail. We also discuss some of the most common causes of each type of pain. So if you’re experiencing any discomfort, read on to learn more about what might be.

Referred Pain Definition

Referred pain is when the source of pain starts from one place in the body and goes to another place. For example, neck pain that causes headaches or wrist and finger pain that comes from the arms. Many things can cause referred pain, like organs, muscles, joints, fascia, tendons, and ligaments. But describing the characteristics of the pain can help you figure out where it is coming from. Referred pain will usually present itself as a dull, aching, irritating feeling or as a "knot" sensation.  It is often hard to pinpoint the exact location of the pain. And it can radiate out from the point of origin or travel to other areas in the body.

Referred Pain Examples

One of the most common examples of referred pain is when people experience neck pain and headaches. The pain in these cases originates from the neck but is felt in the head. This is because of the nerves that send signals from the neck to the brain pass through the head. So, when something irritates or puts pressure on these nerves, it can cause headaches.Another common example is pain that comes from the arms but is felt in the wrists and fingers. This happens because the nerves that send signals from the arms to the hands pass through the wrist and fingers. So, when there is an issue with these nerves, it can cause pain in these areas.

In the photo above, you can see where referred pain is felt and which organs are involved. Organ pains are typically diffuse in nature with poorly defined sensations.

The image above is an example of a trigger point referral pain, which is one of the most prevalent referred pains. Here's how the position of discomfort might differ from the actual source of the problem.

Radiating Pain Definition

Radiating pain is when the source of pain starts and stays in one place but radiates outwards from that point. Radiating pain also known as radicular pain is caused by something pressing on a nerve. This pressure can be from things like a herniated disc, compressed nerve, muscle compression, or spinal stenosis. Most people feel a sharp, shooting pain that goes down their arm or leg. They may also feel numbness or tingling, and their muscles may become weaker when they move them.

Radiating Pain Examples

A common example of radicular pain is sciatica. Sciatica is a type of pain that some people experience. This kind of pain is caused by the sciatic nerve being compressed. This can happen when there is a disc herniation, which is when the disc presses on the nerve root. Another common cause of sciatica is Piriformis syndrome. This happens when the Piriformis muscle becomes inflamed and causes pain because the sciatic nerve runs under it. What separates Piriformis syndrome from a disc bulge is that most people with Piriformis syndrome will complain about lateral thigh pain rather than back pain.

The image above shows the anatomical location of the sciatic nerve.

Another common example is carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm to the hand, becomes compressed. This can cause pain that radiates out from the forearm and into the hand.

The image above is a graph depicting the dermatomes of the spinal cord. Each nerve root is associated with an area of the body in which these nerves send signals for things like pressure, pain, temperature, and texture from your skin to the spinal cord and then the brain.

As you can see, referred pain and radiating pain are two different types of pain. They can both be caused by different things and they can both cause pain in different parts of the body. But knowing the difference between them can help you figure out what is causing your pain and how to treat it.

How Can Chiropractic Treatment Help?

If you are experiencing either referred pain or radiating pain, your chiropractor can help. Your chiropractor in Marrickville, Sydney will first do a consultation and examination to figure out what is causing your pain. Once they have figured out the cause of your pain, they will create a treatment plan that is specific to you. This treatment plan may include things like chiropractic adjustments, massage, and stretches. If you are experiencing referred pain in Sydney, your chiropractor will work on treating the source of the pain. If you are experiencing radiating pain, your chiropractor will work on treating the nerve that is being compressed. Either way, your chiropractor can help you find relief from your pain.

Pain can be a debilitating experience, whether it’s short-term or long-term. If you’re experiencing pain, it’s important to get help from a professional as soon as possible. We’ve outlined the difference between referred and radiating pain. If you have any further questions about what kind of pain you might be experiencing, please reach out to our chiropractor clinic in Sydney for more information. We will assess your condition and provide you with appropriate treatment options. Thank you for reading!

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