Central Sensitivity Syndrome: Unifying Concept For Complex and Chronic Illness

What do fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, PTSD, irritable bowel syndrome, non-responsive depression, migraine headaches, restless leg syndrome, and interstitial cystitis have in common?

These are all conditions caused by chronic inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. The limbic system is essential to motivation, emotion, learning, and memory and regulation of the endocrine (hormonal) and autonomic nervous systems. 

The hippocampus, a part of the limbic system, functions in formation of memory, mental focus, and contextualization of sensory information. Chronic inflammation of the hippocampus commonly results in brain fog and tinnitus. This is the essential physiology of these two symptoms.

The limbic system and spinal cord have a very high density of NMDA receptor neurons that are stimulated by a neurotransmitter called glutamate. This neurotransmitter is the most excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain; chronic overstimulation by glutamate of these receptors results in inflammation and even degeneration of the neuron. It is essentially the brain on fire.

Overstimulation of NMDA receptors by glutamate is caused by stress – physical, chemical, or mental stress. Most commonly it is a combination of the stressors together that results in this inflammation in the brain and spinal cord.

Commonly there are genetic predispositions to this condition which is known as central sensitization syndrome. 

It is rare for doctors to know of this condition and yet there is extensive peer review literature supporting this model for chronic and complex illnesses that tend to fall through the cracks leaving people without answers and frustrated.

Central sensitization syndrome is a very complex healthy issue and requires healthcare and selfcare overtime to heal. For the physician trained in how to recognize the condition there are recognizable patterns that confirm the condition from history, physical exam, and laboratory findings.

Physical stress must be addressed; this is from too much work, too little sleep, and disorganization of the nervous system that requires chiropractic and osteopathic care.

Chemical stress must be addressed by optimizing the diet, typically to a Mediterranean-type pattern, decreasing exposure to chemicals in the environment, and by optimizing nutritional status with targeted supplementation. It is common for people who have central sensitization to have very specific nutritional needs based on their genetic constitution.

Mental stress must be addressed by identifying conditioned hypervigilance and retraining it with relaxation techniques that can include biofeedback, meditation, breath work, and body mind practices that can include yoga, tai chi, and qigong. Cognitive behavioral therapy and other cognitive practices can be helpful.

People don’t have to resign themselves to living with this condition and healing is possible with discipline and time. A video presentation on this condition titled Chronic Stress, Limbic Stress, and Chronic Illness is available at

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Dr. Mark Force

Practice And Mission These experiences and practicing since 1984 have helped me be a catalyst for helping people heal from chronic and complex illnesses that commonly get dropped through the cracks. It’s an honor to be present to people healing; I love the work and study associated with it. There have been many gifted mentors over the years who have shared their knowledge - Lance West, DC, Harry Eidenier, PhD, David Walther, DC, and George Goodheart, DC - and I am extremely grateful to perpetuate their work and vision through practice, teaching, mentoring, writing, and research. My mission now is to turn the knowledge base I've gained from mentors and practice into books and courses for people to practice selfcare and doctors to incorporate more natural healthcare into their practices.

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