Referred Pain Can Cause Confusion When Diagnosing Arthritis

Actual Source of Pain Is Away From Where Pain Is Felt

Diagnosing arthritis can sometimes be a difficult and long process. Arthritis patients experience referred pain which nearly always occurs in the joints. More specifically, identifying which joint is damaged and causing pain can be tricky. You're probably wondering what can be so tricky. If your knee hurts, your knee hurts. That may be, but it's not always that simple. Referred pain can cause confusion, according to an issue of Cleveland Clinic Arthritis-Advisor.

For example:

  • A patient with persistent knee pain may actually have hip osteoarthritis.
  • Another patient with arthritic joints in the neck may have upper back pain.

Referred pain is defined as pain in an area of the body that is distant from the source of the pain. Referred pain should not be confused with radiated pain though. Radiated pain travels down a nerve. For example, a herniated disk can cause pain from your back down your leg. Radiated pain travels an expected pathway. Referred pain travels along unexpected pathways.

There are complex neurologic processes associated with referred pain caused by the interconnected "wiring" of nerves throughout the human body. Patients with hip osteoarthritis commonly have pain in the groin. It's also common to have pain in the front of the thigh down to the knee with hip osteoarthritis.

When a patient complains of knee pain, doctors don't immediately think it is referred pain from the hip. X-rays are taken to look for joint damage. If an examination and x-rays remain inconclusive, the doctor may suggest a hip joint injection with a drug like novocaine. If the knee pain is resolved by the hip injection, it would confirm that the hip is the source of the pain.

Referred pain is not imaginary, it's real. Don't wait long before consulting your doctor and having tests which will determine the source of persistent pain.

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