THE SENSITISED CENTRAL ALARM SYSTEM

Written by: Dean Liuzzi
Published: July 9, 2023

Over how many years of research, exploration and evolution have led to the development of the most up to date and advanced sensory system that we know of. No it wasn’t found on the moon or on some crater on Mars, rather it’s our own Nervous System. This nervous system is capable of detecting small changes in our environment without us being consciously aware. How incredible it is to have something as remarkable as this. This sensory system is an integral part of our daily lives as it not only takes in information to process what is dangerous or safe but also stores this information so we have a reference point should be meet this same sensory information again.

This sensory system rightly gets names the sensory alarm system because it is protective of us and wants to keep us safe. But what happens to this system when it becomes overstimulated and becomes a hindrance to recovery. Our sensors that detect changes in pressure, force or temperature are called Nociceptors, not pain sensors there is no actual pain detection system in our body rather it’s how our brain analyses this sensory information and decides whether it is safe or dangerous for us. When our body is constantly having negative experiences with a sensory input, eg. bending over or reaching when we have a sore lower back, we start to have this cascade effect of our brain deeming this movement that previously has led to a negative experience occurring, still being deemed dangerous or harmful. This can occur well beyond after the injury has occurred as our brain and central alarm system want to protect us. However, this negative reaction can lead to avoidance of movements which can make things tricky as our body and brain find new/altered ways to move which isn’t always beneficial to us.

If this cycle of hypersensitive “pain” response is occurring for 6 months this can lead to what is known as Central sensitisation. Fancy word right, but simply what this means is that the body develops an overreaction to everyday movements or tasks that never use to cause pain, pain comes on randomly for no reason and becomes worse. Your nervous system isn’t like the Great Wall of China or the American> Mexico border it has no boundaries or fences and can spread and cause “pain’ in other areas of the body without any explanation. This response leads to a lack of predictability of when the pain occurs and becomes more affected by our thoughts, feelings, mood leading to even small movements becoming painful because the best way our brain and mind have developed to keep you safe is to make you hurt.

Sounds tricky when the alarm system is dialed up to 100 right? As one of the greatest children’s books of all time The tortoise and the hare highlights, it’s now how fast you get to the destination, sometimes a slow progressive strategy can even outpace someone who is trying to recover more quickly. You may be thinking why is this the case, right? You wouldn’t climb Mount Everest in one day would you because you need to allow your body to adjust to the change in altitude right? Same as exercise, need to start with the basics and build up the bodies tolerance to moving, loaded movement without generating a massive alarm response occurring. We want to get the body to learn to switch off that alarm when you are doing certain tasks so that your body can start to learn and adapt that certain things are no longer a threat to it and are safe. This is not by any means a straight line to recovery and highly likely you will always have some pain to some extent, but let’s be realistic there are always bumps in the road in a tricky recovery, sometimes we need to just Keep Swimming to reach the destination.