Central Pain Syndrome

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What is central pain syndrome?    

Central pain syndrome is a neurological condition caused by damage to or dysfunction of the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS includes the brain, brainstem, and spinal cord. This syndrome can be caused by:

  • Stroke
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Tumors
  • Epilepsy
  • Brain Or Spinal Cord Trauma
  • Parkinson's Disease

The pain associated with central pain syndrome differs widely among people partly because of the variety of potential causes. It may affect a large portion of the body or may be more restricted to specific areas, such as hands or feet. The extent of pain is usually related to the cause of the CNS injury or damage. Pain is typically constant, may be moderate to severe in intensity, and is often made worse by:

  • Touch
  • Movement
  • Emotions
  • Temperature changes, usually cold

People have one or more types of pain sensations, the most major being burning. Along with the burning may be:

  • Feelings of "pins and needles”
  • Pressing, lacerating, or aching pain
  • Brief, intolerable bursts of sharp pain similar to the pain caused by a dental probe on an exposed nerve

People may also have numbness in the areas affected by the pain. The burning and loss of touch sensations are usually most severe on the distant parts of the body, such as the feet or hands. Central pain syndrome often begins shortly after the injury or damage that caused it. It may also be delayed by months or even years, especially if it is related to post-stroke pain.


Pain medications often provide some—but not complete—relief. Tricyclic antidepressants such as nortriptyline or anticonvulsants such as neurontin (gabapentin) may be useful. Lowering stress levels also appears to reduce pain.

Search Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are studies that allow us to learn more about disorders and improve care. They can help connect patients with new and upcoming treatment options.

How can I or my loved one help improve care for people with central pain syndrome?

Consider participating in a clinical trial so clinicians and scientists can learn more about central pain syndrome and related disorders. Clinical research uses human volunteers to help researchers learn more about a disorder and perhaps find better ways to safely detect, treat, or prevent disease.

All types of volunteers are needed—those who are healthy or may have an illness or disease—of all different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities to ensure that study results apply to as many people as possible, and that treatments will be safe and effective for everyone who will use them.

For information about participating in clinical research visit NIH Clinical Research Trials and You. Learn about clinical trials currently looking for people with central pain syndrome at Clinicaltrials.gov.

Where can I find more information about central pain syndrome?

The following organization may help individuals, families, friends, and caregivers of people living with central pain syndrome:

American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA)
Phone: 916-632-0922 or 800-533-3231

Order publications from the NINDS Catalog
The NINDS Publication Catalog offers printed materials on neurological disorders for patients, health professionals, and the general public. All materials are free of charge, and a downloadable PDF version is also available for most publications.