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What is the gate control theory of pain?

Lawrence S. Friedman, MD
Gastroenterology
Have you ever noticed that when you have stomach pain for example you feel it less when you're doing something that requires all your attention? That's because pain is not a one-way street. Your brain can inhibit the pain signals from the gut.

Experts explain this with the "gate control" theory. For example, receptors in your intestines, known as afferent receptors, pick up a pain signal and send it to the brain. But certain centers in the spinal cord can regulate the pain. Fibers in these "pain gates" allow the signal to proceed to the brain, or they may "close the gate" when they receive an inhibiting signal from the brain. This process is sometimes called "down-regulation" of the pain signal. Your brain does this naturally when you are doing something that requires deep concentration, such as playing a sport intensely. Antidepressant medications can also help close the gate by blocking or inhibiting the pain signal to the brain.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.