Have you had pain for months or even years?
Is the pain getting worse, even though you haven’t done anything to injure the area more?
Does every little thing aggravate your pain?
Does the pain make you avoid doing things you used to enjoy?
Each of these can be signs of a sensitized nervous system. No worries, physical therapy can help!
Pain is a distressing sensation that is produced by the nervous system, in response to a threat. The nervous system consists of peripheral nerves, the spinal cord and the brain. Sensors along peripheral nerves detect changes in the environment and changes within your body. There are 5 types of sensors: movement, blood flow, temperature or barometric pressure, illness, and stress. If a change happens in one of these areas the sensors open and send a signal to the spinal cord. If the signal is strong enough, the spinal cord then passes along the signal to the brain. Several areas of the brain process the signal and produce a response. Responses may include tingling, numbness, pain, swelling, sweating, feeling cold, changing positions, etc.
Over time, the percentage of a specific type of sensor can increase, which makes you more sensitive to certain stimuli. For example, you may have more pain when it is rainy or cold, when you have more stress in your life or when you are sick. If you have an increase in movement sensors, even the slightest movement can aggravate your pain or too much time in one position (lack of movement) can also be painful. If blood flow is the issue, you may have more pain at night or with being in one position for too long. With an increase in sensors, it is easier for nerves to send signals to the spinal cord and brain.
As the nerves become better at sending signals, the brain becomes better at producing a response. This creates a vicious cycle that makes you have pain, numbness, tingling, and/or inflammation more often.
The good news is this can be reversed with physical therapy. The goal is to decrease the sensitivity of the nervous system. Your physical therapy treatment plan will be unique to you because every pain situation is unique. Interventions will target the type of stimuli that most often trigger the pain response. Elements of physical therapy care may include education, exercises, relaxation activities, and desensitization techniques. All treatments will be done in a gradual manner and catered to each person’s needs.