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more on sympathetic dominance

“The recent discovery that pain caused by a peripheral nerve injury can imprint itself in the Central Nervous System (Centralized Pain) ranks as one of the great advances in pain management.  Although there has been some debate, these brain changes appear to be the result of chronic pain and not the cause [of the chronic pain].  Centralized Pain is often accompanied by symptoms of hyper-arousal of the Sympathetic Nervous System, which can be used to help guide diagnosis and treatment of Centralized Pain.”Dr. Forrest Tennant, Pain Management Specialist, and Editor in Chief of Practical Pain Management, from his recent article, Chronic Pain and the Brain.

As we will discuss shortly, pain that arises in the CNS (Central Nervous System) is frequently “learned” pain.  In order to learn how to hit a golf ball, speak German, or play the banjo, you have to practice.  And everyone remembers the old adage; practice makes perfect. Unfortunately, this is also how things tend to work when it comes to pain.  If you stimulate pain pathways in the Brain & Nervous System long enough, or are exposed to enough stressors in your life (chemical, emotional, dietary, physical, bacterial, viral, parasitic, electro-magnetic, heavy metals, etc), you can alter the way your Brain and Central Nervous System function.  Because pain can become pathologically locked into the CNS, the method of removing it must specifically target the CNS, as well as the metabolic causes of the pain.” Dr. Russell Schierling, from the website DESTROY CHRONIC PAIN.  This was written back in 2010. 

The Nervous System can be broken down in many ways.  One of the common ways to break it down is to realize it has a Sympathetic and Parasympathetic component.  The Sympathetic portion of your Nervous System is concerned with “Fight-or-Flight“.  It keeps you wound up and the Adrenaline pumping.  On the other hand, the Parasympathetic portion of the Nervous System has to do with relaxation, contentment, and digestive function.  When people’s Sympathetic Nervous System continually trumps / over-rides their Parasympathetic Nervous System, they are said to be in a state of SYMPATHETIC DOMINANCE.  As you might imagine, these are folks who do not sleep well, digest well, or have any energy (their system is burned out from being “on” all the time).  Interestingly enough, Dr. Forrest Tennant, the editor of the medical journal Practical Pain Management, just ran an article on this very topic called Chronic Pain and the Brain.  I want to take just a few minutes to review it for you.  The article I wrote on the topic last August can be accessed by clicking on the previous link.

Dr. Tennant tells us that when pain lasts longer than 3-6 months, it has the ability to, “adversely affect the individual’s well being“.   One of the things that Dr. Tennant mentions is atrophy (shrinkage) of the Brain.  I wrote about this on DSP, when I told you that,

For years neuro-scientists have known that Chronic Pain can cause brain atrophy that is indistinguishable from Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia. More recently The Journal of Neuroscience reported that “The longer the individual has had Fibromyalgia, the greater the gray matter loss, with each year of fibromyalgia being equivalent to 9.5 times the loss in normal aging.”  Think about this for a moment. Every single year you live with Fibromyalgia or other Chronic Pain Syndromes is the equivalent of nearly 10 times the brain loss seen in the normal aging process.” 

Dr. Tennant gives eight different references to scientific studies showing that, “Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) studies recently have shown loss of grey matter density in patients with chronic pain“. According to the research, this is at least somewhat reversible.  Get rid of the pain and the brain will, at least to some degree, regain its mass.  Dr. Tennant goes on to tell us that, it has been my experience that Chronic Pain causes hyper-arousal of the sympathetic component of the autonomic nervous system.  What does this really mean?  It means that CHRONIC PAIN can turn on the part of your nervous system that controls the Fight-or-Flight response.   Unfortunately, with enough stress, some people’s bodies cannot figure out how to turn it off again.  After Dr. Tennant mentions several serious health problems by name (AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES —- FIBROMYALGIA, IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME, NEUROPATHIC PAIN, and BLADDER PAIN SYNDROME), he gives us a list of symptoms frequently associated with Sympathetic Dominance (he refers to it as “Sympathetic Nervous System Hyper-arousal“).  These include……..

  • ANERGY:     This is where your Immune System becomes so weak that it can no longer mount a response to antigens.   This is commonly seen with Fibromyalgia / Adrenal Fatigue and associated problems.
  • ANOREXIA:   This is the weight loss not typically associated with “Anorexia Nervosa” which is intentional starvation. 
  • ANXIETY / DEPRESSION:  I have written about this issue fairly extensively (HERE).
  • DIARRHEA:  Can anyone say IBS?
  • FATIGUE:  This is almost always due, at least in part, to overworked and burned out ADRENAL GLANDS.  It goes hand-in-hand with, and is frequently seen in conjunction with THYROID ISSUES, INSULIN RESISTANCE, and other ENDOCRINE PROBLEMS
  • HEAT EPISODES:   This is a common problem those who do not have may have never heard of.  I routinely see people in my clinic who are “Heat Intolerant“, particularly after TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURIES or WHIPLASH ACCIDENTS.
  • INSOMNIA:    As crazy as it sounds, even though these folks are exhausted, they have trouble sleeping.
  • NAUSEA:   The Parasympathetic Nervous System is associated with digestion.  It’s opposite — Sympathetic Dominance — is not.  Failure to digest leads to numerous health problems.
  • RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME:    RLS is a form of PERIPHERAL NEUROPATHY that is an AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE (click the link for a list of others).
  • TREMORS:   Tremors come in all shapes and sizes, and are associated with a variety of different health issues.
  • URINARY HESITANCY:  Bladder Infections and Urinary Tract Infections are the result of this stasis / stagnation of urine in the bladder.

The only things I had on my list of things that cause, contribute to, or are associated with Sympathetic Dominance that Dr. Tennant did not have on his, were……

  • MIGRAINE HEADACHES:  HERE is more information.
  • ADD / ADHD:  HERE are several articles on this topic.
  • BRAIN FOG:  This is frequently seen in Fibromyalgia, Autoimmune Diseases, and GLUTEN INTOLERANCE.
  • DRY SKIN / DRY EYES / DRY MOUTH:   Because so many different drugs stimulate the Sympathetic Nervous System, these are the side effects associated with numerous medications as well.

Dr Tennant goes on to say that, “CNS implanting” is the result of, “neuro-inflammation and the release of toxins such as glutamate“.  If more people read Neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock’s book on GLUTAMATE (video is at the bottom of the link), they would have a better understanding of this situation.  Dr. Tennant also talks about the Chronic Fatigue likely being the result of, “constant overstimulation of the Sympathetic Nervous System with exhaustion and depletion of some neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine“.  If you want to read about some of the issues associated with this phenomenon, you can start HERE.


If, as Dr. Tennant says, these problems are permanent once they are locked into the CNS, why does it matter?  Let me tell you why knowing this information matters.  Go back to the quote from the top of the page and look at what Dr. Tennant says about this phenomenon of Centralized Pain.  Carefully note that most experts believe Centralization, “appears to be the result of chronic pain and not its cause“.  Re-read that and let the magnitude of what it is saying sink in for a moment.  Plainly stated, this means that the longer your pain goes on, the more likely you are to lock it into your Brain and Central Nervous System.  In other words, you need to do whatever it takes to get to the root of your pain and solve itThis is true whether you are dealing with PIRIFORMIS SYNDROME or CHRONIC NECK PAINADRENAL FATIGUE or NEUROPATHY.  Let severe pain linger, and the odds for permanently imprinting these pathways in your Nervous System increase dramatically. 

How would a person proceed to tackle their Chronic Pain issue?   The first place to start is by looking at the body as a whole.  Many people have SYSTEMIC PROBLEMS that they think are local (HERE and HERE are a couple of common examples).   For those dealing with Chronic Pain, it would serve you well to go through my posts on UNIVERSAL CAUSES / UNIVERSAL CURES.


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