Your pain system – like an alarm system can start to malfunction. Over time, pain and other biological factors change the central nervous system’s perception and signaling. As pain continues or becomes chronic, the alarm system changes and becomes more sensitive. The pain sensing nerves send the same signals as if there was a threat of injury or damage when none exists. When acute pain progresses to chronic pain, pain itself becomes a disease. Your original injury may have healed long ago – but your pain system is still stuck on red alert. Essentially, your nervous system becomes too good at what it does. This can involve several things:
- Spinal cord and central nervous system over-interprets the signal from the tissues as more painful than it should.
- Neuron in the spinal cord become more efficient at sending danger messages to the brain. This magnify the danger messages your brain receives.
- Rewiring of connections in the central nervous system leads to hypersensitivity. The nervous system goes through a process called wind-up and gets regulated in a persistent state of high reactivity.
Once the sensors are sensitized, they permanently strengthen their signals – sounds are louder, light can seem brighter, and movement can hurt more. The nervous system becomes so sensitive that even normal activities are painful. This is called Hyperalgesia. Another affect of increased sensitivity is called Allodynia, or "other pain". This is pain that results from a stimulus that does not normally cause pain. Things that did not hurt before, now hurt.
In a sensitized state, the brain is given information that no longer reflects the true health and abilities of the tissues. Pain is no longer associated with only tissue damage but rather changes in the central nervous system.
I hope you enjoyed this interesting byte of pain science and that it helps change how you think about your pain!