How To Recognize and Manage Referred Pain

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The human body’s “shared wiring” can intermingle and cause unusual effects, especially with regard to pain. At the Leone Center for Orthopedic Care, we sometimes see patients who are experiencing what commonly is known as “referred pain” or persistent pain in one area of the body that actually is caused by injury, weakness or arthritis in a completely different location.

Referred pain most typically occurs in the joints and can be common for people who suffer from osteoarthritis.  For example, people with osteoarthitis in the hip often complain of intense knee pain, totally unaware that it’s not the knee at all that is the culprit, but rather the hip, which may not even hurt at all.

Not surprisingly, certain types of back injuries including disk compression and arthritis in the spine also can cause referred pain to the hip, the knee or both.

If you are experiencing persistent pain in the hip or knee, the only way to diagnose exactly where the problem lies is to have a thorough history and examination, which often includes an X-ray, to determine the source and cause of the pain.

What you can do is keep track of your pain and its characteristics. For example, is your pain constant or intermittent, worse in cold or damp weather or after having been still for a long period of time?  Is your pain related to activity like walking or getting up from a seated position? Does the pain wake you from your sleep? Take notes and then discuss all of your symptoms with your doctor.

Depending on your diagnosis, treatment options can include a combination of physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications, or in advanced cases, joint replacement surgery.

Persistent joint pain should not be ignored, because if left untreated you could be causing further, irreparable damage to your joints.  More importantly, there are treatments to help you regain your quality of life, in some cases totally pain free.

2 Responses to "How To Recognize and Manage Referred Pain"

  1. Marla
    Marla Posted on July 12, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    Oh my goodness. I just had a shot in my hip yesterday, it subsided nothing. My pain is debilitating. A year ago the pain was on my knee, this year, my hip. They tell me it is my spine which should come as no surprise. I’m 43. I used to play national level volleyball and won the Nationals downhill racing. I now cannot walk my dog. I’m useless.

    • holycrossleonecenter
      holycrossleonecenter Posted on August 2, 2016 at 4:02 pm

      Dear Marla,

      Lower leg or joint pain that changes character or location may be a clue as to where your pain is originating. The fact that you were experiencing hip pain, which was treated with a cortisone injection and did not give you any relief, is also a clue. If the injection was placed into the joint versus into tissues outside of the joint, this also gives us insight. The etiology may indeed be originating from your lower back. The diagnosis must be defined before a specific treatment plan developed.

      I would suggest you see an orthopedic surgeon who can help diagnose the root cause of you symptoms and help you develop an optimal treatment plan.

      I wish you a full recovery

      Dr. William Leone

      We thank you for your readership. If you would like a personal consultation, please contact our office at 954-489-4584 or by email at LeoneCenter@Holy-cross.com. General comments will be answered in as timely a manner as possible.