We’ve all heard heart attack symptoms may include pain in the shoulder, neck and back. This is one of the most common examples of referred pain. Referred pain is basically pain at a perceived location instead of the actual pain stimulus.
Similar to referred pain is radiating pain. This is normally a pain located in a completely different area than the actual root of the problem. With a heart attack, an example of radiating pain would be pain in the left arm or jaw.
Although heart problems are serious business, many people experience referred and radiating pain every day from more minor health issues.
For example, many people battle headaches or pain in the shoulder blade area from a disc out of whack or a muscle spasm. As a result of this deceiving pain, people will often waste time treating an area nowhere near the actual body part that needs treatment.
We see this a lot with muscle spasms. When a muscle stays stretched for a long period of time, normally from poor posture, it becomes starved for oxygen from a lack of blood flow to that area (ischemic). Then, ischemic muscle fibers involuntarily contract in an effort to protect the compromised region. This is what we call a muscle spasm. When the muscle spasms, it can pull on ligaments and bone, manifesting pain and problems in a completely different place.
Unfortunately, many people don’t treat the actual problem area. Instead, they end up icing the body part that causes them the most discomfort, which often is referred pain and not the actual source of the problem.
Another common mistake is people will grab a heating pad before they grab a bag of ice. Sure, placing a zip lock bag of crushed ice on your bare back doesn’t sound very soothing, but heat will not reduce swelling. Instead, heat has the potential to make the problem worse, as it causes an inflammatory response. This is especially important with an acute injury or onset of pain.
Lastly, people will avoid exercise in fear of making the pain worse. Ironically, this can cause even more problems. Since most common aches and pains are due to weak and tight muscles, an exercise program incorporating both strengthening and stretching exercises is essential to relieving pain.
The next time you experience pain, check with a trainer or health professional before you treat the pain on your own. You may be treating the wrong area which will not only be ineffective, but could lead to more pain.