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X marks the spot- or does it?

By Donna Eddy

It is a common misconception that the site of pain is the source of pain. Pain can be caused by a number of sources, including physical trauma, nerve damage, and illness. It is important to understand that the site of pain may not necessarily be the source of pain.

Those whom have seen a physical therapist be it an Osteopath, Massage Therapist, Physiotherapist and the like, you’ve most likely been given a body chart to mark ‘where it hurts’.

The majority of spots marked on the chart, are areas that ‘hurt’ and more often than not, it is due to referred pain. Except for joint issues and a problem with your deltoid, most ‘pain’ areas are actually referred pain coming from somewhere else.

Pain referral is a phenomenon where pain originating from one area of the body is felt in another area. It is a common occurrence in the body, and can be caused by a variety of factors.

The most common cause of pain referral is nerve impingement. When a nerve is entrapped, it can cause pain to radiate to other parts of the body. This can occur due to a variety of reasons, including tight muscles, scar tissue, or direct pressure on the nerve.

For example, a person may experience pain in the shoulder due to a pinched nerve in the neck. In this case, the source of the pain is the pinched nerve in the neck, but the site of the pain is the shoulder. This is why it is important to have a thorough medical examination to determine the source of the pain, rather than simply relying on the site of the pain as a diagnostic tool.

Pain referral can also be caused by pain from an internal organ. For example, pain originating in the gallbladder can be felt in the right shoulder. This is due to the fact that both the gallbladder and the shoulder are innervated by the same nerve.

Finally, pain referral can be caused by a “trigger point.” Trigger points are centralised points of tension within muscle tissue that can cause pain in other areas of the body. They are said to be ‘active’ when there is a sensation/pain without any pressure or palpation to the causative muscle. A tell tale sign that the pain sensations felt are from a trigger point, is when the sensation increases in intensity or is reproduced when pressed. Trigger points can be caused by poor posture, overuse, or trauma.

In all cases, pain referral can be a confusing and frustrating experience. If you are experiencing pain referral, it is important to seek medical attention to properly diagnose and treat the underlying cause.

In conclusion, it is important to understand that the site of pain is not necessarily the source of pain. Learning where the sensations are coming from, applying lifestyle measures to alleviate the issues, as well as manual/tactile therapies to help the true cause of the pain are necessary. This can be achieved with the release of overly tight tissues, decompressing spinal joints, relieving nerves and ultimately finding balance for the entire structure.

This is why when you go to a Massage Therapist, an Acupuncturist, a Kinesiologist and the like you may be receiving treatment in areas that don’t actually hurt. Be sure to ask questions and learn about your body. Learn what your body needs and how to prevent things getting into a state of pain and dysfunction again. And always seek a qualified, registered practitioner.



J, Travell; D, Simons; L, Simons. 2nd Ed (1999) Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction. The Trigger Point Manual. Vol 1 & 2. USA Williams & Wilkins.

E, Goodman. (2016) True to Form. N.Y Harper Wave.

I, Segal. (2008) The Secret Language of your Body. Vic Blue Angel Gallery.

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More about the author

Donna Eddy
Donna Eddy
A committed and proactive healer!

I know first hand how debilitating pain can be. Originally a movement coach and trainer, I turned to movement therapy as a way to restore myself to full health after experiencing serious back injury at 21yrs old.

I’ve dedicated my life to distilling the best techniques and helping others understand, manage and recover from pain and to a deeper degree life (be it stress to unresolved emotional content). For more than 30 years  I have immersed myself in all things movement and therapy. As a registered and active acupuncturist (offering three different styles of acupuncture), a trained counsellor & psychotherapist, massage professional, stretch therapist and coach. I have treated thousands of patients and educated private and professional clients of all ages.

I support all of my clients with a complete care package of personalised programming and detailed coaching support. My offerings are as diverse as my training and the results are both potent and profound. My dharma in this life is to teach. I fulfilled that by teaching Diploma level Anatomy & Massage at TAFE and to international students. My dedication to inspire movement and empower those whom have suffered injuries and pain is life long. I’m here to teach – heal – counsel – inspire. I’ve created and continue to develop movement programs like Posture Plus; soulfully nourishing immersions like ZenYin & Salubrious Sunrises; mind body reconnecting corporate programs like UNwind & Free Feet. Connect with me to see how I can either help you or your team. Be the exception and age youthfully…. is your next step a Salubrious one?