The Gate Control Theory of Chronic Pain

The Gate Control Theory of Chronic Pain

The Gate Control Theory of Chronic Pain is a famous theory about how pain works, devised by Patrick Wall and Ronald Melzack in 1965. The gate control theory of pain asserts that non-painful input closes the “gates” to painful input, which prevents pain sensation from traveling to the central nervous system. Therefore, stimulation by non-noxious input is able to suppresses pain.

Pain is a complex process that is experienced differently in various situations and is influenced by a countless number of factors. One’s experience of pain depends on how the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system interact in the way they process pain signals. The central nervous system comprises of the spinal cord and the brain. While, the peripheral nervous system include nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord, branching nerves in the torso and extremities, as well as nerves in the lumbar spine region.

When you get injured, the damaged tissue sends the pain message through the peripheral nerves to the spinal cord and the brain. The brain then decodes the message. It does it through a process called  nociception. Nociception, usually causes the perception of pain.


The Gate Control Theory of Chronic Pain

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Pain, often, is a function of balance between the information traveling through large nerve fibers and small nerve fibers into the spinal cord.  The gate control theory suggests that “nerve gates” in the spinal cord determine whether you feel pain or not. The nerve gates either open or close, by differentiating between the types of fibers carrying pain signals. Large nerve fibers carry non-nociceptive information while small nerve fibers carry nociceptive information. If the relative amount of activity is greater in large nerve fibers, the gates close and there should be little or no pain. However, if there is more activity in small nerve fibers, the gates open and then there will be pain.



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