As we get deeper into the chronic pain hole, our entire body beings to reprogram itself to be even more sensitive to pain.
This creates a vicious cycle we need to break as soon as possible.
Luckily, the body has a few switches that when turned off, the need for pain gets turned off as well.
In this article, we will be talking about allodynia and how the chronic sensitization of pain is assessed with the allodynia symptom checklist and how migraine plays a role.
What is allodynia? / Definition
The international headache society defines allodynia as:
“Sensation of discomfort or pain arising from a stimulus that would not normally be sufficient to have this effect.”
This is different from hyperalgesia which is a sensation of pain or discomfort from a stimulus that is expected to be painful.
In essence what we are talking about here is where the body has become hyper sensitive.
It has crossed over into what we call “trigger mode” in the migraine community.
The body is always lingering on a high level of neuron activity that easily crosses the threshold with any little stimulus such as:
- Combing or pulling back hair
- Shaving face
- Wearing glasses, contact lenses, a necklace or tight clothing
- Taking a shower
- Resting your face or head on a pillow
- Exposure to heat or cold
Because our neurons are always at a high level of activity and trigger so easily, this creates a vicious cycle that further depletes them of energy and causes fatigue and more hair trigger sensations.
We will go into the mechanism below.
The allodynia symptom checklist
The allodynia symptom checklist is a standard measurement used to rate how severe your level of allodynia is.
This scale goes from no allodynia at 0-2 to severe allodynia at 9+.
In migraine sufferers, allodynia type sensations are fairly common and connections have been found between the mechanism that causes migraines and the mechanism that causes allodynia.
In one study,
“The prevalence of allodynia among migraineurs was 63.2%. Severe cutaneous allodynia occurred in 20.4% of migraineurs.”
3 Root cause connections
When we want to understand allodynia, what is going on with our body and what we can do about it we need to understand how neurons work, how the body creates patterns and how it processes information.
The three key pieces here are:
- Neuron excitation/threshold
- Central sensitization
Lets start with how neurons start functioning when they become unhealthy and cannot produce enough energy.
1. Neuron excitation/threshold
Our neurons always have a baseline of activity and stimulation. They are always a little bit stimulated but this doesn’t cause the neuron to “fire.”
When a neuron fires, a thought, idea, action is performed. For example, when we think of a memory, our brain will fire the pathway that last recorded our memory and we will remember it.
But for the neuron to fire, its level of activity and stimulation has to cross its threshold.
When our neurons are healthy, our baseline activity is low and it takes a good stimulus to cross the threshold and cause the neuron to fire.
But when our neurons have trouble creating energy because of inflammation, oxidation or a lack of nutrients to build the blocks of energy, our baseline activity actually goes up.
This makes it so that there is less of a stimulus needed to cause the neuron to fire. This is bad because then when we have very small things happening like a change of temperature or wearing tight clothing, our neurons in our pain receptors can involuntarily fire, giving us pain sensations.
See the pin below to get an idea of how the level of activity has to cross the threshold to cause firing of the neuron.
We want to make sure we can keep inflammation low and provide specific nerve nutrients so that our neurons can produce the energy they need and can maintain a lower level of activity.
When these involuntary triggers are always happening, it drains the neurons of energy even further, leading to a vicious cycle.
This adds to the sensation that our nervous system uses called nociception.
Nociception which is also called nociperception is the nervous systems’ response to harmful and potentially harmful stimuli.
It is like a sense except it gets added up and totalled.
If the amount of harm our nociceptive system is perceiving is high, our body will think we are in danger.
Sensing danger is great in the short term because it activates our bodies resources, gives us energy and makes us focus so that we can get out of danger.
But when this system is sensing danger chronically, our body burns up resources and we get things like chronic fatigue, anxiety, racing heart beat, poor sleep, brain fog and so much more.
We need to keep the total level of nociceptive stress low, but nociception is present throughout our whole nervous system and it gets totaled up.
Our nervous system literally is us and every part of us.
This means every harmful stimulus in and around our bodies, even mental and emotional ones, add to this perception of stress.
We need to reduce stress in every area of our lives that we can.
This means taking out poisons like:
- Petroleum products
- Non natural hygiene products
- Poor quality makeup
- Cookware that leeches
- Mercury amalgams
- Non organic clothing
- Conventionally raised produce
- Non pastured or wild meats
- Plastic containers, bottles
- Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides
- Mental over work
- Emotional trauma, stress and worry
- Over exercise and under exercise
- Poor breathing patterns
- Excessive blue light
- Electro-magnetic field exposure
- Poor quality water
These all play a part in adding to the burden of our liver or kidneys or hormones or brain or lungs or heart etc etc etc.
The nervous system controls them all and adds up stress on any one of them as a total for the body. If it is too high, the body will constantly be in danger mode, more commonly called fight flight or fright mode.
When we are in this mode, our body is not in rest, digest and repair mode which is the one we need to be in the majority of the time to keep our baseline of activity low and stay out of trigger mode.
If we don’t, our body begins strengthening the pain pathways that leads to central sensitization.
3. Central sensitization
Central sensitization is defined as when the nervous system goes through a pattern of “winding-up” and becomes persistently stuck in a state of high reactivity.
When we are in high pain all of the time and especially in conditions like migraine where our metabolic processes aren’t creating proper energy to support low baseline levels of neuron activity, then the body actually gets stuck like this.
It gets conditioned to stay in this state of high reactivity.
Our body is scared. It thinks we are in danger and it can’t properly compensate for stress by raising its stress level and then lowering it to a healthy normal function.
It stays high and it keeps us in fight, flight and fright mode.
Our brain and nervous system functions like a muscle in that,
“What gets used, gets reinforced.”
So staying in this state of high tension, high stress and high pain makes our pain pathways get reinforced.
Our body always wants to become efficient in whatever its doing, even if that is counter productive to our own functioning.
So it builds these pain pathways, makes them stronger and it becomes harder and harder to switch out of them.
The vicious cycle continues.
This is one of the reasons things like regular cold showers, infrared saunas and exercise may actually be beneficial.
When we are put into these states of stress that are even higher than our baseline, but with positive health benefits, our body can gets very stressed and then rebound into rest, digest and repair mode.
So during the cold shower we may cringe and shake, even raising pain, but after that, our body will know the stress is over and return to a normal baseline.
Instead of the usual, chronic, non stop sensitization that occurs with many cases of migraine, headache and other types of chronic pain.
Often one of the first things we start to do when pain or dis-ease sets in is hide, stay still and stop doing things.
But this may actually be more detrimental than helpful.
We need to address the root cause first and remove any excessive stresses like over exercise, relationship issues etc.
But after that, as long as we are supported, we need to get out of our pain pathways.
We need to move, learn new things, see new things and bring novelty into our lives so that our brain can grow and build new pathways.
Without stimulus, it just won’t. It will continue to decay.
I would encourage you to do the opposite of what you are good at, to bring the weaker areas of your brain up to par.
If you are very logical and systems based then you should do more creative and artsy things.
If you are very colorful and creative then take the time and do more linear things like math, calculations and analytical thoughts.
This will bring up weak areas of the brain and create more interconnection in the brain so that neuroplasticity can compensate for any damage that has been done.
As you build your brain back up and reduce any neurodegeneration that has happened, pain will be reduced and happiness and healthiness will come back into your life.
But it has to be approached holistically so that you find the cause and eliminate that first before starting the rebuild otherwise anything you are doing is only palliative.
To understand more about the factors that go into creating pain and migraine, see our article on status migrainosus and intractable migraines which are the migraines that last over 72 hours and don’t respond to treatment.
To learn more about migraines than you’ve ever know before, join the community here.
Do you experience allodynia?
Do you have a disease that it is associated with?
Let me know in the comments below and share this with someone else who has allodynia.