Back Pain Affects Entire Nervous System

More and more research is suggesting that back pain can have significant ramifications for the health of the central nervous system. A new study confirmed that patients with lower back pain show signs of reduced pain tolerance along the entire spinal cord, which may indicate a hypersensitized central nervous system.

Researchers publishing in the journal Spine tested pressure pain thresholds in 20 patients with chronic lower back pain and 20 healthy individuals. In most of the structures analyzed in the spinal cord, patients with back pain had reduced pressure pain thresholds than healthy patients. The authors suggested that this demonstrates what's known as hyperalgesia, or a hypersensitivity to pain, indicative of central sensitization.

Central sensitization occurs when the entire central nervous system, made up of the spinal cord, brain, and spinal nerves, becomes overly sensitized to pain. After an injury or triggering event, pain receptors alert the brain to the perceived threat, setting off a string of automatic protective responses. However, sometimes these pain receptors can kick into overdrive, and like an alarm system that never turns off, they continue sending pain signals to the brain even in the absence of danger. The result is a highly-sensitized nervous system that is quick to react at the slightest sign of a threat.

This disrupted pain response has been documented in patients with musculoskeletal disorders like back pain, fibromyalgia, and whiplash. Central sensitization helps to explain widespread chronic pain after an auto collision, or seemingly random flare-ups in chronic pain in patients with fibromyalgia.

Chiropractic care can help to calm these chronic pain flare-ups, and correct any spinal dysfunctions that could be contributing or causing your symptoms. A 2011 study suggested that chiropractic patients back pain had a lower risk for recurring symptoms compared to patients under standard medical care. Chiropractors specialize not just in pain relief, but in maintaining the proper health of the central nervous system for improved health.

Imamura M, et al. Changes in pressure pain threshold in patients with chronic nonspecific low back pain. Spine 2013; 38(24):2098-107. doi: 10.1097/01.brs.0000435027.50317.d7.

Lasich, Christina. What is Central Sensitization-Symptoms- Chronic Pain. HealthCentral. July 12, 2010.