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Peripheral Sensitization: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Exercises

peripheral sensitization - toronto physiotherapy treatmentEveryone that has sprained an ankle, broken a bone, or suffered any sudden, traumatic injury has experienced peripheral sensitization. When a part of your body gets injured, peripheral sensitization is the increase in sensitivity to the sensations of pain and heat in the injured area which we feel in the hours and days that follow. When the injured area has increased sensitivity to touch, even a gentle brush on the skin will feel painful, when in a non-injured area, it would feel normal.

Pain is a complex experience but similar to any other sensation, our brain has to perceive it for us to feel it. And peripheral sensitization is essentially one way that our body reminds our brain that we’re injured and that we want to protect the injured area.

What Causes Peripheral Sensitization?

Essentially, peripheral sensitization is brought upon mostly by the inflammatory response that our body has to an injury. Inflammatory markers which increase in the area of the injury, have an influence on our pain receptors, making them more sensitive to pain.

How can Physiotherapy, Chiropractic and/or Massage Therapy help with Peripheral Sensitization?

While sensitization is normal and can be protective in the moments after an injury, it can become unhelpful if it persists days after an injury has occurred. To get back to your daily activities, you’ll want to slowly but surely decrease the sensitivity in that area so that you can have less pain in your day-to-day life. Physiotherapists, Chiropractors, and Registered Massage Therapists can help with this.

Your rehab professional can reduce the level of pain you experience by utilizing a combination of hands-on therapy to help your tissues reduce their sensitivity to pain. They can also prescribe an exercise plan individualized for your needs/injury, as safe movement is an essential part of making sure proper healing occurs after an injury. This will also be essential so that you can gradually get back to moving and going about your day-to-day activities safely and pain-free. Lastly, modalities such as ice, ultrasound, and TENS therapy can also help reduce acute inflammation and/or pain, allowing you to get back to moving and living without pain.

What Should be Avoided with Peripheral Sensitization?

In terms of specific activities that should be avoided, this will depend on the area you have injured, and what specific tissue you have injured. Your rehab professional will guide you through the Do’s and Don’ts that are specific to your injury. Generally, after an injury you will not want to continue with any vigorous, intense exercise until assessed by a healthcare professional.

How Long Does it Take to Recover from Peripheral Sensitization?

Recovery from sensitization is extremely variable and dependent on many other contextual factors beyond the level of pain someone is experiencing. Recovery will also depend on what structures were injured, what the extent of tissue damage is, and how long ago the injury took place. That being said, an initial treatment plan developed for you will likely be in the time frame of 8-12 weeks, and in that time many people will see improvement of the symptoms, and a return to most day-to-day activities. If your case is more complex, or your goal is to return to more intense physical activity, then treatment plans can last longer than this.

What are Safe Home Exercises for Peripheral Sensitization?

If you’re experiencing peripheral sensitization, give some of these at home exercises a try to help calm your nervous system down. This will help reduce sensitivity and pain in the injured area. In addition, your rehab professional will help guide you through all the self-management strategies you need to reduce your pain and achieve your goals.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Start by lying down with your feet flat on the floor, placing one hand on the chest and the other on the diaphragm, just below the front of the ribcage. Inhale deeply through the nose for 4 seconds, filling the space beneath your lower hand first. Exhale slowly for 4 seconds. Repeat 5-10x per hour.


Because pain is ultimately perceived by the brain, calming down your mind can have a great impact on your pain. Doing guided meditation for beginners is a great place to start and there are many different free outlets available online.

Light Exercise

While you should always consult with your health care professional about what kind of exercise is right for you, light exercise, even walking, can be beneficial for your pain experience.

If you are suffering from peripheral sensitization and would like to book in with one of our experienced Toronto physiotherapists, chiropractors or massage therapists, please contact us today or book an appointment online.

Rebalance Toronto

Rebalance Sports Medicine is a multidisciplinary clinic in downtown Toronto offering physiotherapy, chiropractic, registered massage therapy, sports medicine, naturopathy, Pilates and more.

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Yonge & AdelaideRebalance Clinic Yonge Adelaide
110 Yonge Street Suite 905
Toronto, ON M5C 1T4
T: (416) 777-9999
E: [email protected]
University & KingRebalance Clinic University King
155 University Avenue Suite 303
Toronto, ON M5H 3B7
T: (416) 306-1111
E: [email protected]

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