SCOTTSDALE AZ—Imagine being afraid to move, afraid to eat, or afraid to be close to your partner. An estimated 30 million people in the United States suffer from a central sensitization syndrome (CSS). A condition that stems from dysfunction in the nervous system leading to unrelenting back pain making movement difficult, irritable bowel limiting eating, or bladder pain ending plans. The pain, driven by nerve sensitization (central sensitization pain) does not respond to standard treatments because the problem has shifted from the injury to the nervous system. This shift is often missed.
“Conventional tests don’t show sensitization, so if you don’t know to look for this condition, it can be missed. If you have debilitating pain with mostly normal medical tests, nerve sensitization is a consideration,” explains Dr. Shana Johnson, a board-certified physical medicine and rehabilitation physician.
With sensitization, nerves are more reactive and responsive to stimuli, increasing pain signals to the brain. They are like a tattletale, constantly telling the brain something is wrong. Severe back pain, bladder pain, or digestive issues result. Dr. Johnson, author of the forthcoming book on CSS, Sunbreak, explains that people with CSS feel pain more easily, more intensely, and in more places. For example, a person with CSS might lift a 10-pound box and experience back pain similar to that of a 50-pound box.
Common conditions, uncommon source
According to researcher Muhammad B. Yunus, CSS is likely the most common reason that patients visit an outpatient clinic. He estimates that more than 30 million adults in the U.S. suffer from one or more sensitization syndromes.
Common CSS include chronic neck, back, and stomach pain, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), migraines, and chronic bladder pain. In addition to the pain, symptoms can include fatigue, brain fog, disrupted sleep, and sensitivity to light, sound, and smells.
“The problem with nerve sensitization being missed is that it can lead to long-lasting disability,” explains Dr. Johnson, adding that there are treatment options, but it starts with the right diagnosis.
If you have CSS, talk with a provider with experience treating nerve sensitization.