Let me start by admitting that this is a click bait title, you might not know what this theory is but you already know how to take advantage of the Gate control theory.
Have you ever had an itchy throat and yearned for a bowl of hot soup and do you remember how that soup made you feel? Do you remember the soothing effect it had on your throat?
Do you remember falling as a child and getting hurt and your mom would rub your leg and kiss you on the spot where you were hurt? You might not remember if it had any effect on you but you must have at least seen it work on every kid on the planet.
Do you remember how it felt when you had muscle pain and how nice it felt after you had put on some pain relief gels?
Have you ever tried acupuncture and did not believe that it worked but were surprised by the end of it?
We have all been there and might have experienced some or all of the above, and trust me, all of them work and their working is based on what is called as the Gate Control theory of Pain and if you are still wondering if they are placebos, none of them are placebos!
Well, If they are not placebos then how do they work?
Before I go ahead and explain the Gate Control Theory of Pain, Let me start by explaining what pain is. Any kind of action or state that might potentially be destructive to your own body is sent as signals to specific parts of your brain through certain pathways using chemical and electrical processes, what happens after that is a bit of a mystery, there are some airy fairy pixie dust words thrown around but you really cannot go any further without knowing what consciousness is. All you can do is guess, You cannot experience pain without consciousness.
If pain wasn’t present, most men would likely be chopping off their limbs and swirling them around till they end up unconscious and dead from blood loss. Jokes apart, there is a condition called CIPA where children don’t feel any pain and the majority don’t make it to adulthood.
I know I know, I went way off course, but let us get to the point, what does the theory say, it says, spinal nerves act as gates to let pain travel through to reach the brain — or close these gates and prevent pain messages from getting through at all.
What can close these gates though?
If you see the awful diagram which I drew above, c-fibre is a nerve that carries pain signals to your brain and A-Beta fibre carries signals of sensation of touch.
Do you also notice that A-Beta/green fibre is gigantic when compared to the C-Fibre/red. Also, another point to note is that signals on Green-Fibre travel much faster than signals on Red-fibre. I am not the subject matter expert, so I don’t know what causes the speed difference and I am not certain if it means bandwidth or latency either. I am sure there is plenty of research on the topic if you are interested.
Now since signals on green fibre travel much faster, they get to the brain first and also interfere with the Pain Gate in the spine thereby reducing or completely stopping the pain signals. Interference is achieved through chemical processes by blocking the transmitters and the receptors at the gate.
Now we know we can reduce the signals on the Red fibre by activating the Green-Fibre and the way we do that is by activating the sense of touch or temperature – Massage, hot cup of soup or the tingling sensation of those pain relief gels. Similarly pain may also be relieved by sending pain signals from another part of the body by means such as acupuncture. It is that simple!
Do you get it!? I was amazed the first time I understood this and I hope I was able to evoke the same feeling in you 🙂
If you found this article helpful or enlightening please share it with your friends and family.
If you are still reading, food for thought, What else can cause pain, is it limited to something physical, can memories cause pain? Can feelings cause pain? What pathways does emotional pain take and what pathways can resolve it?
This article is dedicated to my wife on her birthday who was very excited when she was explaining this theory to me as she has expertise in the field of Anesthesia, Intensive care and Pain.
Warning: This is my understanding and just a brain dead dumbed down version of the actual theory, do not try stupid things on yourself!