Pain pathways and the Pain Gate Theory

Pain Pathways

Pain is detected by sensory nerve endings (called receptors) which are found throughout the tissues of the body- carrying messages/impulses to the central nervous system.

Tissue irritations or injury instigate the release of chemicals (histamine, peptides and kinins) that stimulate nocicpetors (refer to image above)

When a receptor is stimulated, it triggers a message that is sent via pulses (neurotransmitters) to the brain referred to as pain pathways. These pain pathways stimulate areas of the brain and help explain the 'subjectivity' of pain where the perception of pain will differ from patient to another

Pain Gate Theory

Following an injury, pain signals are transmitted to the spinal cord and then up to the brain. Melzack and Wall* suggest that before the information is transmitted to the brain, the pain messages encounter "nerve gates" that control whether these signals are allowed to pass through to the brain.

In some cases, the signals are passed along more readily and pain is experienced more intensely. In other instances, pain messages are minimized or even prevented from reaching the brain at all.


*Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall proposed what is known as gate control theory during the early 1960s.

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