The sensitization model to explain how chronic pain exists without tissue damage

Pain Manag Nurs. 2012 Mar;13(1):60-5. doi: 10.1016/j.pmn.2010.03.001. Epub 2010 Jul 22.


The interaction of nurses with chronic pain patients is often difficult. One of the reasons is that chronic pain is difficult to explain, because no obvious anatomic defect or tissue damage is present. There is now enough evidence available indicating that chronic pain syndromes such as low back pain, whiplash, and fibromyalgia share the same pathogenesis, namely, sensitization of pain modulating systems in the central nervous system. Sensitization is a neuropathic pain mechanism in which neurophysiologic changes may be as important as behavioral, psychologic, and environmental mechanisms. The sensitization model provides nurses with an opportunity to explain pain as a physical cause related to changes in the nervous system. This explanation may improve the patient's motivation to discuss the importance of psychosocial factors that contribute to the maintenance of chronic pain. In this article, sensitization is described as a model that can be used for the explanation of the existence of chronic pain. The sensitization model is described using a metaphor. The sensitization model is a useful tool for nurses in their communication and education toward patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Central Nervous System Sensitization*
  • Chronic Pain / nursing
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / nursing
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Neurological
  • Patient Education as Topic