What Is Referred Pain?

March 8, 2023

“My spine is the reason my hand hurts?”

Learn more about referred pain and how chiropractic adjustments can help.


People are often surprised when they hear that chiropractors can treat more than just back pain. And while there is a lot more to adjustments than just “cracking backs,” chiropractors do put a lot of focus into the spine.

Why is that?

As it turns out, misaligned vertebrae in your spine can cause symptoms of pain and discomfort throughout your entire body. This is known as joined or referred pain and it’s a huge part of what makes chiropractic care so effective.

In this article, we’ll discuss what referred pain is and what causes it, plus the best way to treat it so you can get back to living pain-free!



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What Is Referred Pain?

If you’ve ever gotten brain freeze, you’ve already experienced referred pain firsthand.

Referred pain is any pain that is felt in a different part of the body than where the primary cause of the pain is located. For example, even though the cold treat is in your mouth, you feel pain in your head.

man with ice cream cone holding head in pain

Why does this happen?

The sensation we describe as “pain” is a warning from the nervous system that something is wrong within the body. The body has a network of nerves that are connected to each other. When one nerve detects pain, it will send those pain signals to the other nerves in the network, letting them know there’s an issue in the area. These nerves then tell your brain that there is pain in another area of your body.

Sometimes, however, the pain is not sent to the exact spot where the pain originated, but somewhere else along the nerve. Trigger points are notorious for causing this, but they are not the only cause.

The experience of referred pain can vary greatly, depending on the source of the pain. For some, referred pain feels like an intense burning sensation. Others may feel a dull ache or pressure in the affected area. Sometimes the intensity of referred pain fluctuates and disappears for a period before returning with a vengeance later on.


chart of the nervous system

How Can the Spine Cause Referred Pain?

The spine is much more than a stack of vertebrae. This complex structure is layered with discs and interwoven with a network of nerves.

As you can see in the above chart, all of your nerves originate from your spine. Your spinal cord runs through each of your vertebrae, branching off to travel throughout your body. If a bone, disc, or inflamed tissue puts too much pressure on the nerve where it leaves the spinal column, this can cause you to feel pain elsewhere along the nerve.

Misalignments and injuries can be caused by anything from poor posture to a car accident. You may even feel symptoms other than pain. Numbness, tingling, or weakness are just as common as pain.


Referred Pain Areas

During their education, chiropractors spend a lot of time learning about human anatomy. And one area of study that is crucial in chiropractic care is spinal nerve function.

Each nerve that branches off from the spinal cord is like a super highway to each area of your body. Through your symptoms, chiropractors are able to find the true source of referred pain by tracing those nerves back to the corresponding vertebra in the spine.

Using the referred pain chart below, it’s easy to see how certain body parts—such as your hands, feet, and even your lungs—can be affected by a misaligned joint.

referred pain chart


Treating Referred Pain

It’s important to remember that pain is not normal!

If you are suffering chronic pain that seems to have no cause, a chiropractor can help relieve your symptoms by treating the problem at the source.

Chiropractors treat referred pain by adjusting the spine, relieving pressure on the nerve. The adjustment will also help to reduce the inflammation in the surrounding tissues, which can relieve some of the pain and swelling.

Your doctor may use an x-ray to pinpoint the exact location of the problem or s/he may be able to tell which area to treat by hearing which areas of the body are affected.


Have You Been Living With Referred Pain?

At Oviedo Chiropractic, we don’t just treat the symptoms of your pain, we treat pain at its source.

Our expert chiropractors provide quality chiropractic care and adjustments to help restore proper alignment and relieve referred pain. Our state-of-the-art equipment helps us quickly diagnose and treat pain so our team of chiropractors and massage therapists can help you get back to feeling your best.

Remember, pain is never normal. If you’ve been living with chronic headaches, referred pain, or even lower back pain, schedule an appointment today. We can’t wait to meet you.

Justin Cough

Dr. Justin Cough, D.C.

Dr. Cough graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in Port Orange, FL after receiving his BS in Education from SUNY Oswego. Before becoming a chiropractor, he coached many middle and high school sports teams including football, lacrosse, basketball, and soccer. He is passionate about focusing on our bodies' natural healing mechanisms and helping his patients enjoy the utmost sustainability in their lives.

For some, chiropractic offers relief from pain. For others, it's about feeling and looking good. Call today and see what chiropractic can do for you!

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Oviedo Chiropractic

2871 Clayton Crossing Way Suite 1073
Oviedo, FL 32765
(407) 542-1614
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