Ligament Referred Pain Patterns

Many people feel pain in one joint or affected part of the body, despite physical examinations and diagnostic tests that don't indicate any damage to those areas. The reason that people may feel joint pain or back pain, despite no apparent cause of injury, is due to referred pain patterns. Referred pain patterns are pain and associated symptoms at a particular area of the body that are actually caused by a physical injury in another area. By physical injury, we mean an injury that can likely be diagnosed and measured. Many physical injuries, such as joint arthritis, are ones that you are likely aware of, and have suffered from for some time. Though you will be aware of both points of pain, you may not have associated the two injuries with one another because of the amount of time between when you first experienced the first injury and when you began experiencing the second injury. Referred pain often involves the nerves of the body and the structures of the musculoskeletal system, including the ligaments, tendons, and cartilage of the joints.

Doctors and patients alike should recognize the signs of referred pain patterns so that an acute injury in one area doesn't become misdiagnosed and later become a chronic injury. Recognizing referred pain patterns may be difficult because of the complexity of the nervous system and the many types of tissues involved.

Let's take the nervous system as one example, and how its organization of nerves that travel throughout our body can make it so hard to pinpoint the precise source of nerve pain. We do know that at each level of the spinal cord, two nerve roots exit through the space between the building blocks of the spine - the vertebral bones. Each of these nerve roots then branches four more time. Three of these nerve branches supply information to the nearby muscles of the back as well as the adjacent soft tissues at that level of the spine. The fourth branch off of the main nerve root goes to a specific section of the body. It is for this reason that doctors are often able to pinpoint the location of nerve compression based on the part of the body where a person experienced neurologic symptoms such as pain, numbness, and weakness. We also know that the as these nerve branches travel towards a specific section of the body, they branch several more times, and also combine with other nerve branches from that original nerve root, as well as nerve branches from other nerve roots. That is why more than one nerve root may be involved with function and sensation in one particular part of the body. For example, we know that the nerve root at L4, L5, and S1 are involved in the extension of the toes. A person with nerve root compression at these levels of the spine may have referred pain patterns in this extremity.

We also know that a person may have referred pain patterns because of a ligament injury. Here are some signs that a person may have ligament referred pain patterns.
  • A ligament injury to the shoulder may refer pain to the upper arm or if more severe, down to the wrist.
  • A ligament injury in the lumbar spine can result in radiating pain down the keg to the knee.
  • Ligaments laxity and injury in the cervical spine may cause tension headaches in the forehead and temples, as well as other associated symptoms. Other associated symptoms may include referred pain patterns in the eyes, at the side of the head, and just above the ear.