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The Mystery of Referred Pain Syndrome

The Mystery of Referred Pain Syndrome

Referred pain syndrome, often referred to as reflective pain, is a phenomenon where pain originating in one part of the body is felt in a different part of the body away from its source.  During an occurrence of angina pectoris, a chest pressure due to insufficient blood flow caused by a heart attack, sensations of pain and discomfort are felt frequently in the arm or left shoulder. Similarly, pain from the spleen may be present in the left shoulder. And when thymus problems appear, pain may be felt in the crook of the neck by the right shoulder. Any number of sensations of hurt and discomfort can crop up in our nervous system.

Scientists are continuing to discover more about how and why this phenomenon occurs, although it has been known and studied since the nineteenth century. British neurologist Henry Head is believed to have been the first person to coin the term “referred pain.” Other physicians and pathologists of the time (such as Louis-Antoine Ranvier) conducted experiments to determine the ways stimuli could be perceived in the nervous system. In 1888 royal physician William Allen Sturge noticed that nerve fibers from different organ tissues “converged” onto the same spinal neuron. This laid the groundwork for the school of thought that our bodies’ pain signals can be communicated down multiple nerves simultaneously. Throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, doctors across the globe have documented and investigated cross-organ sensitization, where sensory inputs are sent and received by different sets of nerves. Today’s researchers use state of the art technology and methods of detection in their continuing exploration of how the human nervous system alerts itself about pain.

As our understanding of how we feel pain in our bodies evolves, our methods of determining the origins of such pain and how we go about treating it changes as well. A physician or even a team of doctors thoroughly listen to patients without judgment, putting forward all of their years of expertise in addition to keeping up to date with all of the latest medical discoveries and applying them in a way that gets to the root of the problem in a way that can be managed to optimal effect.