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Desensitisation techniques for pain and hypersensitivity

What is desensitisation?

Some people who experience persistent pain will have increased sensitivity to things like touch, pressure, or temperature in the skin of the affected area. Desensitisation is an effective way to treat this increased sensitivity.

Desensitisation techniques are used to gradually improve tolerance to touch in the sensitive area of skin. The aim of these activities is to make sensations in the skin of the affected area feel more normal again, by re-educating the nervous system.

What is touch hypersensitivity?

The nervous system needs to be sensitive enough to detect a potentially dangerous stimulus and let us know about it (by giving us pain). Sometimes, however, it becomes too sensitive, causing us pain that is not useful.

Hypersensitivity arises because our nerve pathways become more sensitive when they relay damage messages – for example after an injury, or even when someone has persistent pain without any injury.

How do I start?

Where possible, feel the sensation on a part of your body unaffected by your injury or hypersensitivity first. Next, try and remember how that ‘normal’ sensation felt when moving to the affected area.

You need to look at the place you are desensitising and concentrate on how the sensation felt on the unaffected area, whilst staying as relaxed as possible.

Information:

You may want to think about when and where is best for you to do desensitisation activities, to help yourself be as relaxed as possible.

How do I desensitise my body part?

  • Start by gently massaging and touching. Take time to do this every day for a few minutes. Firm pressure is easier to tolerate than light touch and tickling.
  • First, feel the sensation on a part of your body not affected by your hypersensitivity and try and remember how that sensation felt when you move to the affected area.
  • Always start at the edge of the sensitive area and gradually work into the more sensitive area.
  • You need to look at the place you are desensitising, whilst staying as relaxed as possible. You may want to consider when and where you are doing the desensitisation, to help yourself be as relaxed as possible.
  • Move on to picking different textured materials to try. Progress from softer materials (for example, silk or cotton wool) to a rougher material (for example, wool) to a textured fabric (for example, Velcro). This course of progression may take several days to several weeks or months, depending on the level of hypersensitivity.
  • Putting weight through the affected limb joint whilst carrying out the activity will help.

Regular daily practice will increase the benefit. A short period of desensitisation (even 1 to 2 minutes) as many times as possible throughout the day is best.

It is usual for these activities to be uncomfortable and, to some extent, painful whilst doing them and shortly afterwards, but you are not causing any damage.

Contact the Pain Team

Should you wish to contact the Pain Team please telephone the Pain Nurses on 0114 271 7397 or Switchboard on 0114 271 7000 Bleep 139.

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Disclaimer

Please note this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s. The details in this resource may not necessarily reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If you have specific questions about how this resource relates to your child, please ask your doctor.

Resource number: PAI10

Resource Type: Article

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NHS

Western Bank
Sheffield
S10 2TH

United Kingdom

Switchboard: 0114 271 7000

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