In school, you’re taught to repeat something over and over again to commit it to memory. Did you know your nerves can “memorize” different kinds of stimuli?

Your nerve cells can memorize bad stimuli, like pain.  This is called central sensitization. In what follows, we’ll talk about the science behind central sensitization, how it’s diagnosed, and how it’s treated.

Central Sensitization Syndrome (CSS) refers to a collection of disorders where the central nervous system misfires and amplifies sensory input, resulting in pain, fatigue, brain fog, and sleep problems. When central sensitization occurs, the nervous system goes through a process called wind-up and gets regulated in a persistent state of high reactivity. This persistent, or regulated, state of reactivity lowers the threshold for what causes pain and subsequently comes to maintain pain even after the initial injury might have healed.

Here is more about CSS:
Definition and Mechanism:
  • CSS involves something called central sensitization. The term “central” refers to the central nervous system (made up of the brain and spinal cord), and “sensitization” indicates increased sensitivity to stimuli processed by this system.
  • In CSS, the body becomes sensitive to various sensory inputs, leading to symptoms like allodynia (pain due to non-painful stimuli) and global sensory hyper-responsiveness (strong reactions to lights, noises, smells, etc.)
Conditions Associated with CSS:

    CSS includes several health conditions, such as:

  •  Fibromyalgia (FMS): A common CSS characterized by widespread pain, tender points, and other symptoms.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS): Involves severe fatigue, sleep disturbances, and cognitive impairments.
  •  Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ): Affects the jaw joint and surrounding muscles.
  •   Interstitial cystitis: Causes painful bladder symptoms.
  •   Irritable bowel syndrome: Leads to gastrointestinal symptoms.
  •   Headache and migraine, myofascial pain syndrome, and more.

   While estimates vary, some figures for CSS conditions in the United States include:

  •    Fibromyalgia: Affects around 2% of adults.
  •    Chronic fatigue syndrome: Occurs in 0.25% to 0.75% of adults.
  •     TMJ: Prevalent in 5% to 12% of adults.

Treating Central Sensitization Syndrome (CSS) often involves a multidisciplinary approach to manage the heightened sensitivity of the central nervous system. Here are five ways to treat CSS:

  1. Medication: Medications can include pain relievers, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants, which help manage pain and other symptoms associated with CSS
  2. Physical Therapy: A tailored physical therapy program can help improve mobility and reduce pain. Exercise therapy is particularly beneficial as it helps in desensitizing the central nervous system
  3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT can help patients cope with the chronic pain associated with CSS by changing the way they think and react to pain
  4. Stress Management Techniques: Relaxation techniques, meditation, and other stress management strategies can help reduce the overall stress burden, which may exacerbate CSS symptoms
  5. Lifestyle Changes: Implementing lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, good sleep hygiene, and a healthy diet can support overall well-being and potentially reduce the impact of CSS symptoms

It’s important to note that treatment plans should be individualized, as the symptoms and severity of CSS can vary greatly from person to person. Working closely with healthcare providers to develop a comprehensive treatment plan is key to managing CSS effectively. CSS involves changes in the central nervous system, leading to heightened sensitivity and a range of symptoms. Empowering patients with knowledge about CSS can enhance the ability to manage this condition effectively.


I work with mid-life men and women who want to feel younger through improving their relationship to food, movement and mindfulness.

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