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Referred Pain Defined


Updated February 18, 2009

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Definition: Referred pain is the phenomenon of pain being felt in an area away from the actual source of the pain.

A common example of referred pain is the shoulder pain that often happens when a person is having a gallbladder attack. Even though the gallbladder is located in the abdomen, patients may actually feel the pain in their shoulder, typically the right shoulder.

Another example of referred pain that people are familiar with is left arm pain during a heart attack.

Modern medicine hasn't entirely explained the reasons behind referred pain, however, the most common theory is that strong pain messages running along nerves either "leap" or "overwhelm" adjacent nerves, causing pain to be felt where that series of nerves originates.

Also Known As: reflective pain,
Common Misspellings: refered pain,
The patient did not understand why she was told she was having a gallbladder attack when she was complaining of shoulder pain.
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