May 01, 2021

Central sensitization

Retraining your brain to feel less pain

You glance out your kitchen window and watch your husband weed the garden. You want to help and breathe in some fresh spring air — but the persistent pain in your back stops you.,

As someone with chronic pain, you may often find yourself sitting on the sidelines. You may have sought out many specialists in an unsuccessful search of solutions for your pain.

This is often the case for those with central sensitization, a term for when your central nervous system magnifies pain signals and other sensory input. The pain is real, and it can occur in people with various chronic pain issues — including fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis and chronic pain from whiplash.

Turning up the volume

Your body constantly receives information from your senses, such as temperature, touch, noise, sight, motion and taste. Your nerves send this information to your central nervous system — your spinal cord and brain — to be processed. Your brain may process some of these signals as pain. With central sensitization, your nervous system "turns up the volume" of pain messages and other sensations. It's as though the volume control on your television is set to low, but what comes out of the speakers is high volume. You may find ordinarily painless sensations — such as gentle touch — painful (allodynia) and painful sensations even more painful than usual (hyperalgesia). Pain may not be the only feeling turned on "high." You may also experience extreme reactions to noise, light and temperature.

This happens because...