Hypothesis & Theory ARTICLE

Front. Physiol., 15 May 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fphys.2013.00115

Neuromuscular strain as a contributor to cognitive and other symptoms in chronic fatigue syndrome: hypothesis and conceptual model

Peter C. Rowe1*, Kevin R. Fontaine2 and Richard L. Violand3
  • 1Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA
  • 2Department of Health Behavior, University of Alabama School of Public Health, Birmingham, AL, USA
  • 3Violand and McNerney, PA, Ellicott City, MD, USA

Individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) have heightened sensitivity and increased symptoms following various physiologic challenges, such as orthostatic stress, physical exercise, and cognitive challenges. Similar heightened sensitivity to the same stressors in fibromyalgia (FM) has led investigators to propose that these findings reflect a state of central sensitivity. A large body of evidence supports the concept of central sensitivity in FM. A more modest literature provides partial support for this model in CFS, particularly with regard to pain. Nonetheless, fatigue and cognitive dysfunction have not been explained by the central sensitivity data thus far. Peripheral factors have attracted attention recently as contributors to central sensitivity. Work by Brieg, Sunderland, and others has emphasized the ability of the nervous system to undergo accommodative changes in length in response to the range of limb and trunk movements carried out during daily activity. If that ability to elongate is impaired—due to movement restrictions in tissues adjacent to nerves, or due to swelling or adhesions within the nerve itself—the result is an increase in mechanical tension within the nerve. This adverse neural tension, also termed neurodynamic dysfunction, is thought to contribute to pain and other symptoms through a variety of mechanisms. These include mechanical sensitization and altered nociceptive signaling, altered proprioception, adverse patterns of muscle recruitment and force of muscle contraction, reduced intra-neural blood flow, and release of inflammatory neuropeptides. Because it is not possible to differentiate completely between adverse neural tension and strain in muscles, fascia, and other soft tissues, we use the more general term “neuromuscular strain.” In our clinical work, we have found that neuromuscular restrictions are common in CFS, and that many symptoms of CFS can be reproduced by selectively adding neuromuscular strain during the examination. In this paper we submit that neuromuscular strain is a previously unappreciated peripheral source of sensitizing input to the nervous system, and that it contributes to the pathogenesis of CFS symptoms, including cognitive dysfunction.

Keywords: adverse neural tension, neurodynamics, chronic fatigue syndrome, manual therapy, central sensitivity, orthostatic intolerance

Citation: Rowe PC, Fontaine KR and Violand RL (2013) Neuromuscular strain as a contributor to cognitive and other symptoms in chronic fatigue syndrome: hypothesis and conceptual model. Front. Physiol. 4:115. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2013.00115

Received: 18 February 2013; Paper pending published: 16 March 2013;
Accepted: 01 May 2013; Published online: 16 May 2013.

Edited by:

Julian M. Stewart, New York Medical College, USA

Reviewed by:

Deborah A. Scheuer, University of Florida, USA
Dragomir N. Serban, “Gr. T. Popa” University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Romania

Copyright © 2013 Rowe, Fontaine and Violand. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Peter C. Rowe, Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 200 N. Wolfe St, Room 2077, Baltimore, MD 21287, USA. e-mail: prowe@jhmi.edu

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