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Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2015 Feb;29(1):6-19. doi: 10.1016/j.berh.2015.04.024. Epub 2015 May 23.

Diagnosing and treating chronic musculoskeletal pain based on the underlying mechanism(s).

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Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, The University of Michigan, 24 Frank Lloyd Wright Dr PO Box 385, Ann Arbor, MI 48106, USA. Electronic address:


Until recently, most clinicians considered chronic pain to be typically due to ongoing peripheral nociceptive input (i.e., damage or inflammation) in the region of the body where the individual is experiencing pain. Clinicians are generally aware of a few types of pain (e.g., headache and phantom limb pain) where chronic pain is not due to such causes, but most do not realize there is not a single chronic pain state where any radiographic, surgical, or pathological description of peripheral nociceptive damage has been reproducibly shown to be related to the presence or severity of pain. The primary reason for this appears to be that both the peripheral and central nervous systems play a critical role in determining which nociceptive input being detected by sensory nerves in the peripheral tissues will lead to the perception of pain in humans. This manuscript reviews some of the latest findings regarding the neural processing of pain, with a special focus on how clinicians can use information gleaned from the history and physical examination to assess which mechanisms are most likely to be responsible for pain in a given individual, and tailors therapy appropriately. A critical construct is that, within any specific diagnostic category (e.g., fibromyalgia (FM), osteoarthritis (OA), and chronic low back pain (CLBP) are specifically reviewed), individual patients may have markedly different peripheral/nociceptive and neural contributions to their pain. Thus, just as low back pain has long been acknowledged to have multiple potential mechanisms, so also is this true of all chronic pain states, wherein some individuals will have pain primarily due to peripheral nociceptive input, whereas in others peripheral (e.g., peripheral sensitization) or central nervous system factors ("central sensitization" or "centralization" of pain via augmented pain processing in spinal and brain) may be playing an equally or even more prominent role in their pain and other symptoms.


Centralization; Fibromyalgia; Pain

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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