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Chiropractors are routinely asked ‘What is referred pain?’

You might be experiencing what you assume are minor aches and pains. These could occur anywhere in multiple forms, from tingling pain down the arms or legs to soreness in the hips. Often, the source of these pains is the spine, even when the pain is elsewhere. Referred pain is a real, common condition that can affect any part of the body. Referred pain may also a serious condition, since it might not be getting the proper attention.

Don’t ignore seemingly random pain and just hope it goes away on its own. Instead, seek help from someone who understands exactly how referred pain works and what causes it, a chiropractor.

This phenomenon occurs when the feedback loops of the Central Nervous System (CNS) are functioning poorly, or if too little or too much input is occurring. As many nerve messages are common to different organs, tissues and bones, the brain has difficulty in interpreting the origin of the signals

Referred pain is a confusing concept to most people, but it becomes clearer when explained. Think of it like your car’s “check engine” light. When that light comes on, it’s a sign that there’s a problem under your hood. The light isn’t the problem: it merely represents one. The same is true for referred pain.

Since the spine is the protective mechanism of your central nervous system,  subluxations (misalignments) of the spine are often the underlying cause of pain in more distant tissues. Long-term wear and tear of vertebral discs and spinal joints is often related to misalignments, as these structures are only nourished through good movement of the joints. Muscles that are overworked may lead to nerve compression, another condition connected to referred pain.

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. Pain into the back of the leg can be due to referred pain, commonly called sciatica. There are a number of potential problems that can refer into the back of the leg, onre of which is the sciatic nerve – probably not tje most common reason though.  Referred knee pain can occur when the knee joint cartilage wears away, exposing nerves in the area. Referred back pain can spread to the hips, mid back or legs.

Chiropractors are trained to locate the underlying source of pain, and restore proper functioning to the area. In a randomised controlled trial1 there was a favourable outcome for conservative treatment of people with referred pain. Thorough physical and neurological examination of areas of stress or tension can help pinpoint the existing spinal problem. From this point, a treatment program can be designed depending on the appropriate treatment for the original site of pain.


  1. J Chiropr Med. 2008 Sep;7(3):115-25. doi: 10.1016/j.jcm.2008.05.001.Chiropractic outcomes managing radiculopathy in a hospital setting: a retrospective review of 162 patients. Christensen KD, Buswell K.

Towards Wellness


Not in an email, not on Twitter or Facebook, but really: laugh out loud. Whether you like watching Family Guy or Seinfeld reruns, if it gets you chuckling, it’s good for your heart. Research from the University of Maryland Medical Centre shows that laughter helps relieve the stress that damages the endothelium, the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels and helps your blood flow. It also promotes the healthy function of blood vessels.

Stretch of the Month

  1. Place your feet slightly apart, and hands on hips.
  2. Raise your knee-bent leg.
  3. Perform knee rotation to the right and to the left.
  4. Change the leg
  5. Do 10 repetitions for each leg


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