Muscle referred pain is a type of pain sensation wherein the pain originates from another location (from either the nerves, bones, ligaments or other tissues), but is felt along the musculature.

Referred pain in specific areas of the body such as the left arm and shoulders can be caused by an impending heart attack and the appearance of the refereed pain can guide the health care providers on the diagnosis and the treatment of the condition. In the same line, the presence of muscle referred pain may mean other underlying conditions leading to referred pain on the musculature.

Knowing the causes of muscle referred pain is usually more important than knowing the referred pain per se because managing the cause will ultimately relieve the muscle pain as well. Plus, these conditions causing the referred pain may even be more of a concern that the muscle pain in the first place.

The causes of referred pain are vast depending on the location of the muscle pain. Nevertheless, there is still limited research regarding the matter because of the complexity of the issue. Most common causes identified include:

  • Spinal problems

The presence of spinal conditions such as disc herniation can be a common cause of muscle referred pain. Disc herniation can lead to pain along the muscles in the back, thighs and legs because of the impingements in the nerves that innervate the muscles in the area. Cervical conditions such as cervical osteoarthritis can result in muscle pain along the neck area and even headache as a result of the spasms of the muscles along the head. Cervical subluxations can also lead to muscle pain along he shoulders because of the increased workload in the shoulder muscles to support the head and neck. Other spinal problems include spinal stenosis, dislocation of the vertebrae, and the like.

  • Trigger points

Another common cause of muscle referred pain that is very relevant to chiropractic care is the presence of trigger points. Trigger points, muscle knots or trigger sites are hyperirritable muscle knots that are characterized by palpable “nodules” of muscle fibers. Trigger points are the common sites for referred pain that radiates to broader areas that are most of the time distant to the actual location of the muscle knots. Trigger points can lead to muscle referred pain and even local tenderness. They are commonly located in the back muscles causing heaviness and pain.

  • Musculoskeletal injuries

The presence of musculoskeletal injuries is another cause for muscle referred pain. Any inflammation in the soft tissues in the body may actually radiate to the overlying muscles leading to pain.

All of these causes boil down to the point wherein all nerve endings in the body share the same cell pool in the spinal cord. So in instances that an organ or a body part becomes affected, other areas in the body that shares the same path in the spinal cord in terms of the innervating nerves becomes painful too.

Muscle referred pain is a common complaint to chiropractors and physicians and their appearance should not be taken for granted. So the next time you feel aching muscles, consult a health care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.