A really important concept for anyone struggling with chronic pain, fibromyalgia, or other chronic health conditions is the idea of “central sensitivity syndromes” (CSS for short).
The term refers to any kind of condition that can be caused by a change in the way the nervous system processes pain (a process known as central sensitization).
I have described central sensitization in more detail in other posts. (Here, I will just say that sometimes, the nervous system can begin to function differently after physical injury or trauma. Basically, the more chances our nervous system has to “practice” sending pain signals, the better it gets at it).
Central sensitization is why you can still have pain after an injury is healed. Your tissues are no longer damaged, but your nervous system has not forgotten the “memory” of the pain.
So… how does this happen? What kinds of injuries or traumas are necessary to cause it? And what symptoms can it cause?
The answer to is: central sensitization can happen in many different ways, and sometimes the things that trigger it don’t have to be very “severe.” And there can be a wide range of symptoms, in different parts of the body. It can be different for each individual person, depending on genetic makeup, co-existing health conditions, psychology, and, of course, the event that triggered it.
This is why the term “central sensitivity syndromes” is so helpful– there are so many health conditions, which on the surface might seem very different, yet all have central sensitization as their root cause.
To my knowledge, the term was first coined by physician and researcher Muhummad Yunus, who, along with his colleagues, conducted an important 1981 study linking fibromyalgia to other health conditions caused by nervous system sensitization.
Since then. Dr. Yunus has contributed to a really impressive list of studies establishing central sensitization as the likely cause of a wide range of conditions, including:
- irritable bowel syndrome
- temporomandibular disorder (TMJ)
- restless legs syndrome
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)
- chronic pelvic pain
Central sensitization can create different types of symptoms, from one person to another, in different parts of the body. This one common cause can have many different manifestations.
In fact, the effects of central sensitization in the same person can change over time. The effects can get worse as the condition progresses, or cause new symptoms in different parts of the body.
Additionally, as Dr. Yunus writes, central sensitization can also occur in the background when someone has another primary health condition which creates pain and stresses their nervous system out. It can be a factor in conditions such as:
- rheumatoid arthritis
- systemic lupus
- ankylosing spondylitis
- diabetes mellitus
- inflammatory bowel disease
Basically, anything that stresses your nervous system out and gives it a chance to practice sending those pain signals can cause it to become better at sending those pain signals. So even if central sensitization isn’t the primary cause of your illness, over time it can become a secondary factor.
The good news, however, is that the effects of central sensitization don’t have to be permanent. It can also get better.
That’s what my blog is all about– helping people find out about the ways I, personally, have managed to reduce the effect central sensitization has upon my life, as well as raising awareness about new avenues of research.
What helped me the most is an approach to physical therapy known as pain neurophysiology education. However, there are other forms of treatment out there, including medications some people have found to be effective for the effects of central sensitization.
I’m going to write more on central sensitization and its treatment, as well as the work of Dr. Muhammad Yunus, in the future.
I hope this post was helpful for you, and that you stay tuned!