Understanding Referred Pain

Pain is one of the most complicated processes in the human body…

Pain is one of the most complicated processes in the human body. You may have experienced this is you ever saw a physiotherapist for pain in one part of your body, and they started to treat an entirely different area.

Some people are born with no sensation of pain at all, and amputees sometimes continue to feel pain where their limbs used to be. The complexity of pain is one of the reason’s why physiotherapists at Action Sports Clinic conduct such a thorough physical examination before being able to determine the exact source of your pain.

Why is pain so complicated?

Unfortunately, we are still don’t understand everything about the way pain is processed.

Usually, when an injury or damage occurs to body tissues, a signal is sent to the brain, which begins to interpret this signal and creates the sensation of pain. Pain is thought to be a warning signal to let you know to avoid danger and pay attention to the injured body part.

Occasionally this system goes a little haywire, and pain signals are sent when there is no
damage or the location of the pain is misdirected.

Referred pain is the term used when pain is felt at a different location to the source that is sending the pain signal. There are many kinds of referred pain, and some are easier to explain than others.

What are the different types of referred pain?

In some cases, if it is a nerve that is sending the pain signal, then pain can be felt all along the length of the nerve. Patients often describe this as a sharp burning pain along the skin.

One of the most common examples of this is
sciatica, where the large nerve that runs down the back of the leg is irritated around the lower back. The source of the pain signal is near the spine. However, that pain follows a distinctive pattern down the leg.

In other cases, it is the muscles and not the nerves that are referring pain elsewhere. Muscular trigger points are taut bands that develop within muscle tissue that is undergoing abnormal stress.

Poor posture, lack of movement, and overuse
can cause muscles to develop areas of dysfunction. These trigger points can
cause pain that radiates out in distinctive patterns. Trigger points are diagnosed as the source of pain if symptoms are reproduced when a therapist presses on a specific point.

If that wasn’t confusing enough, we know that our internal organs also refer pain. Pain referred by internal organs is frequently described as a deep ache, and usually not influenced by movements of the limbs or back.

Organs often distribute pain in patterns that are very obscure and sometimes don’t even create any pain at their location. For example, kidney pain often feels like lower back pain. Tragically there have been patients who have failed to seek treatment in time as they mistook a  erious condition for a simple


None of the information in this newsletter is a replacement for proper medical advice. Always see a medical professional for advice on your individual condition.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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We specialize in the practice of Sports Medicine and provide services related to Sports Therapy, Chiropractic Care, Physical Therapy, Massage as well as off the shelf and custom Prosthetics & Orthotics.

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Do you provide custom brace solutions?

Yes, Dr. Rennick is qualified by the world’s top orthoepedic brands to develop custom bracing solutions for many conditions.

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We carry brands from the worlds top manufacturers including Donjoy, Össur, CTi, Bauerfeind, Thuasne and more.

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Open Hours

Sunday          Closed
Monday          9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Tuesday         9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Wednesday   9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Thursday       9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Friday             9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Saturday       Closed


639 5 Avenue Southwest Suite 130
Calgary, Alberta T2P 0M9

Action Sports Clinic