In a recent study (1), patients with chronic neck pain experienced more somatosensory pain than patients with acute neck pain. The somatosensory system in the human body refers to sensations felt by sensory organs other than the eyes or ears. It is how we feel whether something is hot or cold, rough or smooth. It is how we sense our outside world whether we can see or hear.
As a child, you probably learned this 5th sense as “touch,” but the system is far more complicated. There are several different types of receptors that lie in the surface of the skin,
organs or muscle tissue. When stimulated by a physical cause (heat, pressure, injury etc.), the message is taken by the connecting sensory nerves, to the spinal cord and to a specific area in the brain that holds a sort of “map” of your body. The final sensation (pain, burn, sting etc.) is then “felt.”
Can you see why a person with chronic neck pain may “feel” more somatosensory pain? Though the system is vast and quite complicated, chronic problems with spinal alignment (as seen in patients with chronic neck pain) may cause communication problems between the outer branches of nerves, spinal cord and brain.
In fact, we often forget that the spine serves as the protector of the spinal cord, and that the spinal cord and the branching nerves are in charge of virtually every communication between the body and the brain. Back pain and neck pain can be indicators of spinal degeneration, inflammation and potentially, compression of nerves whose communication may be compromised.
(1) Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics Khodabakhsh Javanshir,
Ricardo Ortega-Santiago, Mohammad Ali Mohseni-Bandpei, Juan C. Miangolarra-Page,
César Fernández-de-las-Peñas Exploration of Somatosensory Impairments in Subjects With
Mechanical Idiopathic Neck Pain: A Preliminary Study Volume 33, Issue 7, Pages 483-556
(September 2010) pages 493-499