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Central sensitization (CS) is a problem of the nervous system. The nerves reset in a way that makes a child more sensitive to pain. Pain may be felt from light touch or pressure. It can also cause pain to last longer than the injury that caused it.


Changes in the spinal cord or brain cause CS. This may be from things like strokes and spinal cord injuries.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of CS are:

  • Having a health problem that causes chronic pain
  • Having a brain or spinal cord problem or injury
  • Genetics
  • The environment
  • Having mental health problems


Problems may be:

  • Increased reaction to things that are painful and things that are not usually painful
  • Being very tired
  • Problems sleeping
  • Changes in mood
  • Memory problems


You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and health history. You will also be asked about past pain issues. A physical exam will be done. A doctor who treats pain may be needed.

No test can confirm CS. The doctor will rule out other causes of pain.


A chronic pain plan will be needed. It will include methods to help manage pain and improve quality of life. The exact plan depends on the child’s needs. Options are:

MedicineThese medicines may help manage physical changes like inflammation:

  • Over-the-counter pain medicine
  • Prescription pain medicine
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-seizure medicine

Therapy Thought process, emotions, and tension can affect pain levels. Therapy may help manage pain. Options are:

  • Relaxation therapy—to ease tension
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—to help a child form healthy thought patterns and learn coping methods
  • Parent training—to help parents manage their child’s pain


There are no guidelines to lower the risk of CS.




Assessment and management of children with chronic pain. American Pain Society website. Available at:  http://americanpainsociety.org/uploads/get-involved/pediatric-chronic-pain-statement.pdf . Published January 4, 2012. Accessed May 7, 2018.

What is central sensitization? Institute for Chronic Pain website. Available at:  http://www.instituteforchronicpain.org/understanding-chronic-pain/what-is-chronic-pain/central-sensitization . Updated May 29, 2017. Accessed May 7, 2018.

Woolf CJ. Central sensitization: implications for the diagnosis and treatment of pain. Pain. 2011 Mar;152(3 Suppl):S2-S15. Available at:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3268359/ . Accessed May 7, 2018.