Central Sensitization in Musculoskeletal Pain: Lost in Translation?

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2020 Nov;50(11):592-596. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2020.0610.


Central sensitization is a physiological mechanism associated with enhanced sensitivity and pain responses. At present, central sensitization cannot be determined directly in humans, but certain signs and symptoms may be suggestive of it. Although central sensitization has received increasing attention in the clinical literature, there is a risk that certain distinctions are being lost. This paper summarizes current knowledge of the physiology of central sensitization and its possible manifestations in patients, in order to inform a debate about the relevance of central sensitization for physical therapists. It poses 6 challenges associated with the application of central sensitization concepts in clinical practice and makes suggestions for assessment, treatment, and use of terminology. Physical therapists are asked to be mindful of central sensitization and consider potential top-down as well as bottom-up drivers, in the context of a person-centered biopsychosocial approach. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2020;50(11):592-596. doi:10.2519/jospt.2020.0610.

Keywords: central sensitivity syndrome; central sensitization; nociplastic pain; pain assessment; pain physiology.

MeSH terms

  • Central Nervous System Sensitization*
  • Humans
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / physiopathology*
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / psychology
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / therapy
  • Patient-Centered Care
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Terminology as Topic