Referred Pain? What’s That?

Experiencing referred pain means you are experiencing pain in one muscle or area of the body, but the source of the pain actually comes from a trigger point in an entirely different muscle. Sometimes this occurs in a body part lying a significant distance from the referring trigger point.

In another post in which we discussed “what are trigger points” we learned that the trapezius muscle has a trigger point about midway between the shoulder and the neck lying atop the torso. (See figure 1)

Two more trapezius trigger points lie next to each other at the juncture of the shoulder and the neck, indicated in yellow on figure 1, although the posterior point is the more frequent culprit causing referred pain.

These trigger points “will consistently refer pain above the trigger point into the neck – this is a major source of “tension neckache.” As the pain intensifies, it will extend to the side of head, centering around the temple and behind the eye. On occasion, pain will also flare up in the angle of the jaw. When referred pain from this trigger point is combined with other myofascial trigger points, this almost always results in extreme tension headaches.” (1)

The trapezius is probably the muscle most often beset by myofascial trigger points. It is a frequently overlooked source of temporal…headache. (2)

In Figure 2 note how the trigger points of the upper trapezius refer pain to the side and back of the neck, traveling up the neck, over the ear to the temple. In addition they also refer pain to the jaw.

If you were beset with fierce temporal headaches and you and your medical practitioner were both unaware that trapezius trigger points referred pain to the temple causing temporal headaches, you would constantly be misdiagnosed for the cause of your headaches.

That is why it is so important to visit with a medical practitioner who has been trained in the diagnosis and treatment of trigger points.

(1) Aid My Headache. Retrieved 10/22/2009

(2) Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual; Authors: Janet Travell, MD and David Simons, MD. p 279

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