Referred Shoulder Pain: Understanding the Hidden Causes of Shoulder Pain


Referred Shoulder Pain: Understanding the Hidden Causes of Shoulder Pain

Picture this: you’re minding your own business, trying to enjoy a game of tennis, and suddenly, your shoulder starts to ache. You assume it’s just a muscle strain or a joint problem, but what if the cause of your shoulder pain is actually far from where you feel it?

That’s right, my dear readers, we’re talking about referred shoulder pain – a fascinating and complex phenomenon that can leave even the most experienced physiotherapists scratching their heads.

Referred pain is like a game of hide-and-seek, where the source of the pain is hiding in plain sight, waiting to be found.

As a sports specialist physiotherapist, I have seen my fair share of referred pain cases, and referred shoulder pain is a particularly intriguing one. The idea that a pain in your shoulder can be caused by something completely unrelated, perhaps even in a different area of your body, is both fascinating and frustrating. But fear not, my dear reader, for in this article, we shall embark on a journey of discovery, exploring the complex phenomenon of referred shoulder pain.

What is referred pain?

Let us begin by delving deeper into the intricacies of referred pain. Referred pain occurs when a person feels pain in an area of the body that is not the actual source of the pain. This happens because the nerve pathways that transmit pain signals from the affected area overlap with those of nearby or even distant areas. Referred pain is often described as a confusing and frustrating experience, as the source of the pain can be difficult to pinpoint, leading to misdiagnosis and improper treatment.

In the case of referred shoulder pain, the pain is felt in the shoulder, but its source can be somewhere else entirely. This could be due to nerve impingements, musculoskeletal conditions, or even internal organ disorders.

As a result, diagnosing referred shoulder pain can be particularly challenging, and it requires a thorough examination by a trained physiotherapist to determine the underlying cause of the pain.

Common causes of referred shoulder pain and treatment options

One of the most common causes of referred shoulder pain is a problem with the neck or upper back. This is because the nerves that supply sensation to the shoulder area originate in the neck and upper back. Therefore, any injury or irritation to the nerves in these areas can lead to pain being referred to the shoulder. Additionally, issues with the liver or gallbladder, such as gallstones, can also cause referred pain to the shoulder.

In terms of treatment, the approach will depend on the underlying cause of the referred shoulder pain. For example, if the pain is caused by a musculoskeletal condition, such as a rotator cuff tear, then physiotherapy and exercises to strengthen the shoulder may be recommended. If the pain is due to an internal organ disorder, then the underlying condition will need to be treated first.

Other examples of referred pain issues

Referred pain, a perplexing and intriguing occurrence, is a multifaceted phenomenon that can manifest in various areas of the body. While neck injuries causing shoulder pain is one example, there are many other surprising examples of referred pain that people wouldn’t think of. Here are a few:

  1. Hip pain caused by prostate problems: The prostate gland is located in close proximity to the hip joint, and inflammation or other issues with the prostate can cause pain to radiate to the hip.
  2. Headaches caused by dental problems: Dental issues such as tooth decay, gum disease, or dental abscesses can cause pain to radiate to the head and result in headaches.
  3. Knee pain caused by hip problems: The hip and knee joints are closely connected, and problems with the hip joint can cause pain to radiate to the knee.
  4. Abdominal pain caused by heart problems: While we typically associate heart problems with chest pain, they can also cause pain to radiate to the upper abdomen, back, or jaw.

Important bullet points to remember about referred shoulder pain:

  • Referred shoulder pain can be caused by a variety of conditions, including cervical radiculopathy, rotator cuff injuries, bursitis, and internal organ disorders.
  • The pain may be described as sharp or shooting and may be accompanied by numbness or tingling in the arm or hand.
  • Diagnosis and treatment of referred shoulder pain may involve imaging tests, physical therapy, pain management, and surgery in some cases.
  • Seeking medical attention is important to determine the underlying cause of the pain and to prevent further damage or complications.

Referred shoulder pain can be a frustrating and confusing experience for many individuals, as the pain is felt in the shoulder even though the root cause may be elsewhere in the body. However, with the help of a skilled and experienced physiotherapist, it is possible to identify and address the underlying cause of the pain, leading to a reduction in symptoms and an improvement in overall quality of life.

If you are experiencing shoulder pain, don’t ignore it or try to manage it on your own. Instead, make an appointment with Lane Cove Physio to get on the path to recovery today.