Central Sensitivity Syndromes and KMS Acupuncture

It is interesting to note that in TCM disease is a cultural concept influenced by ones environment, climate and most importantly emotional state of health. To me, the increase in centralized sensitivity syndromes is a good example of how our culture of stress, unprocessed trauma and environmental disregard is showing up in the body as hyper-vigilance in the nervous system. Clinically I’ve seen Kiiko Matsumoto Acupuncture (KMS) provide helpful strategies for balancing body systems affected by CSS – namely ANS, immune, adrenal and the prefrontal cortex of the brain.

Central sensivity syndromes (CSS) vary in their presentations and symptoms. Below is some info from the complex chronic disease program at BC women hospital:

What are Central Sensitvity Syndromes?

Central sensivity syndromes (CSS) belong to a family of syndromes that share the common mechanism of “central sensitization.” Central means the problem is at the level of the brain and spinal cord. The neurons (brain and spinal cord cells) are “hyper-excitable” or sensitzed because of changes in the way the cells communicate chemically and through other mechanisms. The sensitized cells amplify, or make stronger, messages that we get from our senses (for example touch can feel like pain, normal lighting or sound can be experienced as uncomfortable). But the cells are not just sensitized; they often send “wrong” information as well, and they can also trigger abnormal responses to the environment. For instance the cells can send information to make your heart race, make you feel dizzy, or not regulate your body temperature normally. New sensitivities to food, chemicals, and medications can also occur.

What are examples of Central Sensitvity Syndromes?

The diagram below shows some of the common Central Sensitvity Syndromes.

What predispose someone to Central Sensitvity Syndromes?

The syndromes can run in families (parents, siblings, children). Also abuse or trauma in childhood also seems to play a role (as it does in many other conditions). Many with these syndromes have neither of these.

What are triggers (precipitants) for Central Sensitvity Syndromes?

In predisposed individuals, there is oIen a trigger (precipitant) in the form of a stressor. This includes infections (for example after a flu), physical trauma (for example after a car accident), or psychological stress or trauma (for example “burn out” or even a single traumatic event).

What else goes wrong with Central Sensitvity Syndromes?

Central sensitization is the result of problems with the endocrine (hormone) system, the immune system, and inflammation. There are also problems with the cell’s mitochondria (the energy power houses of the cell).

Are there any other factors that come into play in Central Sensitivity Syndromes?

Yes. Poor sleep, overexertion, reduced activity, stress, depression and anxiety can all turn up the dial of sensitivity and make symptoms worse.


KMS acupuncture offers a practical framework for addressing both the root causes and symptoms of CSS. This style of acupuncture uses hands on palpation of the body to assess where the nervous system is holding tension patterns and uses acupuncture to bring completion to long held embodied symptoms. Below are a few of the common KMS treatment strategies for working with CSS.

ANS Treatment – Assessment and treatment of autonomic nervous system imbalances is undoubtedly an important system to help regulate in the context of CSS. The autonomic nervous system can loop us into a pain cycle. Pain leads to stress, stress causes hyper vigilance in the nervous system, the nervous system registers more pain, and so on.

Immune Treatment – these treatments can help to address root causes that may have triggered CSS like infections or parasites, as well as help to modulate immune function in the current immunological cascade of CSS.

Adrenal Treatment – prolonged periods of stress and chronic pain in CSS can eventually lead to adrenal disharmony that can be corrected with acupuncture. Adrenal imbalances may also be part of the root cause of CSS especially in those predisposed to childhood abuse or trauma.

Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex “DLPFC” Treatment – an important strategy for CSS from Kiiko Matsumoto that uses scalp acupuncture to stimulate the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex in the brain. This is the brain centre responsible for “the off switch” of neurological patterns involving cycling pain & trauma. When we stimulate this part of the brain while the body is in a relaxed state, we can start to override the pain pathways and form new ones around feeling better. fMRI studies have shown that in those patients with chronic pain or PTSD, this area of the brain shows reduced blood flow and when those patients come out of chronic pain or other symptomatology, that area of the brain again shows increased blood flow.

An important point to keep in mind when we find ourselves in the realm of hypersensitivity/CSS is that many of these neurological holding patterns are quite subsconscious, or even unconscious. That is to say, they are innate responses to environmental, chemical, immunological or psychosocial triggers. We can not “strongarm” our hypersensitivity responses to be held in check (and personally I/we would argue that clinging to ideas of how one “should” respond to illness or traumatic events can further suppress and lock in the neurological holding patterns that our bodies innately engaged in, in an attempt to keep us safe). Judging ourselves when we wind up in hyper aroused states is neither useful nor necessary. There are many avenues back to balance and a calm, pain-free state. KMS acupuncture can help us to understand the messages our body is giving us and release those that are not serving us.

You’ve Had Acupuncture, Now What?

Five Easy Things To (not) Do Post Acupuncture Session

As a general rule – we don’t give patients a lot of home care or advice in between sessions. This is because we feel we live in a society that is doing too much, all of the time. We would rather you rest than add another thing to your to-do list.

Often patients come in during a busy day with a list of things to accomplish after their session, only to find they are totally zoned out (thanks to the release of oxytocin) and ready for bed after having acupuncture. Your nervous system has entered into a parasympathetic state during acupuncture (where the healing magic happens) so we want to take full advantage of our time spent here. My top suggestions for folks getting off the table are:

1. If you’re feeling tired post acupuncture, listen to your body. Take a nap, or rest for the remainder of the day. Cancel the gym, the coffee date, the extra work you had planned on doing from home.

2. Keep it going for the week- Whatever you have planned for the next week, cut it in half and be okay with that. We can always do less! This freaks a lot of (busy) people out but I promise everything will be okay. Doing less just takes practice.

3. Spend time in nature. Nature helps to further co-regulate an overactive nervous system and even reduces cortisol (stress hormone), and inflammation in the body.

4. Drink water to help your body flush toxins and rehydrate tissues. No fancy supplements or meditations needed.

5. Come back soon-ish, acupuncture works best with repetition. It can take time to unwind holding patterns of stress, pain and chronic illness in the nervous system. Especially during initial and acute treatment, the body needs extra reminders to form new neurological pathways around feeling better.