Nervous System: Definition and What it is

Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Maureen Lu, PT, DPT

Nervous System Definition and Meaning

The nervous system is a complex network of cells called neurons that transmit and process signals between different areas of the body. It consists of the brain, spinal cord, and a vast network of nerves that extend throughout the entire body. The nervous system is the body's electrical wiring, serving as the primary communication and control system for bodily functions and sensory information.

The nervous system controls basic functions like breathing, heart rate, and digestion, ensuring the seamless operation of vital organs. It also handles more complex tasks like processing sensory information (for example, when you touch a hot stove and then react by jerking your hand away), facilitating thought, memory, and emotion, and orchestrating voluntary movements. 

We feel pain in our bodies, but how and where we process pain is determined by the nervous system and the brain. The nervous system sends messages to the brain about pain and helps your body interpret pain. When you experience low back pain, an ankle sprain, or stiff knees, for instance, it’s because your nervous system has relayed a warning signal back to your brain that there’s an issue that needs attention. 

Anatomy of the Nervous System 

The nervous system is divided into two main parts: the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain and spinal cord and acts as the control center, processing information; and the peripheral nervous system (PNS), which transmits signals from the CNS throughout the body and from the body back to the CNS.

The nervous system plays a significant role when certain parts of the body get injured, irritated, or inflamed. Common musculoskeletal conditions that affect the nervous system include:

The Nervous System and Pain: A Hinge Health Perspective

Our pain system wants to protect us, but it can be hard to understand why some pain just continues — even without any threat that needs protection. This can cause us to experience pain even when there's no actual damage or injury. Imagine a car alarm that goes off every time a leaf lands on the hood. That's what an oversensitive pain system can be like. 

It’s not your fault your body has become more sensitive to pain. This can just happen sometimes, thanks to a number of factors from your body, your environment, and your brain and nervous system. None of this means that your pain is in your head, in the sense that it isn't real. But it does mean that there are psychological elements to pain that can lead to a hyper-excited nervous system that we can tap into to work to unwind and retrain your pain system. We can make it a little less reactive, a little more resilient.

That usually starts with movement. Of course, physical activity strengthens, stretches, and lubricates joints, but exercise also seems to desensitize the nervous system so you feel more confident and safe to move, which in turn can make you feel stronger and more fit, breaking the persistent pain cycle. Pain management and physical therapy that focus on a mind-body approach, and not just a body approach, can be more effective in the long run.

You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. 

Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.


  1. How does the nervous system work? (2016, August 19). National Library of Medicine; Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). 

  2. Overview of Nervous System Disorders. (2019). Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. 

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