Beyond the Joint: The Role of Central Nervous System Reorganizations in Chronic Musculoskeletal Disorders

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2017 Nov;47(11):817-821. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2017.0608.


To a large extent, management of musculoskeletal disorders has traditionally focused on structural dysfunctions found within the musculoskeletal system, mainly around the affected joint. While a structural-dysfunction approach may be effective for musculoskeletal conditions in some populations, especially in acute presentations, its effectiveness remains limited in patients with recurrent or chronic musculoskeletal pain. Numerous studies have shown that the human central nervous system can undergo plastic reorganizations following musculoskeletal disorders; however, they can be maladaptive and contribute to altered joint control and chronic pain. In this Viewpoint, the authors argue that to improve rehabilitation outcomes in patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain, a global view of the disorder that incorporates both central (neural) and peripheral (joint-level) changes is needed. The authors also discuss the challenge of evaluating and rehabilitating central changes and the need for large, high-level studies to evaluate approaches incorporating central and peripheral changes and emerging therapies. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2017;47(11):817-821. doi:10.2519/jospt.2017.0608.

Keywords: central nervous system; chronic pain; musculoskeletal pain.

MeSH terms

  • Central Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology*
  • Chronic Pain / rehabilitation
  • Humans
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / rehabilitation
  • Musculoskeletal System / innervation*
  • Peripheral Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Sensorimotor Cortex / physiopathology