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Vol. 23. Issue 6.
Pages 516-526 (01 November 2019)
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Vol. 23. Issue 6.
Pages 516-526 (01 November 2019)
Original Research
DOI: 10.1016/j.bjpt.2018.10.012
Exploring the pre-morbid contexts in which central sensitisation developed in individuals with non-specific chronic low back pain. A qualitative study
Jacqui R. Clarka,b,c,
Corresponding author

Corresponding author at: The Physio Shed, 8, Beach Grove, Omokoroa 3114, New Zealand.
, Peter C. Goodwina, Gillian Yeowella
a Faculty of Health, Psychology and Social Care, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, Birley Campus, Manchester, United Kingdom
b Department of Physiotherapy, Human Physiology and Anatomy, Faculty of Physical Education & Physiotherapy, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Jette Campus, Brussels, Belgium
c Pain in Motion International Research Group, Brussels, Belgium1

  • Pre-morbid contexts may relate to the onset of central sensitisation in chronic low back pain.

  • Themes of developmental learning experiences and personal characteristics emerged.

  • Themes of physical and emotional sensitivities and traumas also emerged.

  • These four themes may be linked with autonomic stress responses and central sensitisation pain.

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Tables (4)
Table 1. The interview guide used for centrally sensitised people with non-specific chronic low back pain, to understand the context in which CS developed in relation to pre-morbid anxiety and sensory sensitivity characteristics.
Table 2. Participant demographics: identification (ID) label, age, trait sensory profile and personality type characteristics, and the presence of widespread pain (WP).
Table 3. Themes grouped into sub-themes, categories and codes.
Table 4. Direct quotations representing identified themes and subthemes from centrally sensitised participants with non-specific chronic low back pain.
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Central sensitisation pain is a predominant mechanism in a proportion of individuals with non-specific chronic low back pain and is associated with poor outcomes. It is proposed that the pre-morbid experiences and contexts may be related to the development of central sensitisation.


The objective of this study was to explore the pre-morbid experiences and personal characteristics of participants with central sensitisation pain from a non-specific chronic low back pain population.


This was a qualitative, exploratory study, using a concurrent nested design within a mixed methods protocol. n=9 participants were recruited purposively based on sensory profiles and trait anxiety-related personality types. Data were collected through semi structured interviews, managed using QSR NVivo 10 software and analysed using theoretical thematic analysis.


Four themes emerged: developmental learning experiences, personal characteristics, sensitivity and trauma. Reported was lack of confidence, low esteem and a need to please others, physical hyper-sensitivities (smell, light, sound) and emotional sensitivity (anxiety) as well as physical hypo-sensitivity. Participants had also suffered emotional and/or physical trauma. Learning difficulties, sensory sensitivities and trauma are associated with autonomic stress responses, which in turn have been linked to physiological changes seen in central sensitisation pain.


Central sensitisation pain developed in the context of sensory processing differences related to learning difficulties, sensitivities and trauma, and personal characteristics of low confidence and control, in a group of participants with non-specific chronic low back pain. The role of pre-existing sensory processing differences, as a component of altered central nervous system function, in relation to central sensitisation pain warrants further investigation.

Central sensitisation
Pre-morbid experiences
Learning differences
Personal characteristics


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