Central sensitisation has two main characteristics. Both involve a heightened sensitivity to pain and touch. They are called “allodynia” and “hyperalgesia”.
Allodynia occurs when a person experiences pain with things that are not normally not painful such as massage or a gentle touch. In such cases, nerves in the affected area send signals to the brain. Because the nervous system is in a state of heightened reactivity, the brain doesn't perceive a mild sensation of touch as it should, but produces a sensation of discomfort and pain.
Hyperalgesia occurs when a stimulus that is typically painful is perceived as more painful than it should be - for example, bumping your knee on a table would normally be considered to be mildly painful but for somebody in a hyperalgesic state that level of pain would be intolerable. When the nervous system is in a persistent state of heightened reactivity, it produces pain that is amplified.
When the nervous system is in this heightened state patient’s can often feel like they are going crazy because they know small bumps and gentle touches shouldn’t result in excruciating pain.
In addition to allodynia and hyperalgesia, central sensitisation has some other less common characteristics such as heightened perception of smell, sound and light. Chronic pain patients can sometimes report sensitivities to light, sounds and odours. Central sensitisation can be associated with poor concentration and difficulties with short-term memory. Some sufferers will report emotional difficulties such as depression and anxiety as the nervous system regulates, not only sensations of pain but, emotion too.
If you’re in pain, speak to our Osteopath to learn how we can help.
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