PAIN GATE THEORY
Why do we feel pain?
Pain is a signal that the body has been damaged or something is wrong. In evolutionary terms pain was a signal which told us to stop what we were doing or to take alternative action.
Because of the danger involved in pain the pain signal had to be strong and hard to
ignore. The pain signal is closely linked to what is known as the 'Flight or Fight Syndrome'.
This is where our body is put into 'ALARM' status. Our muscles receive more blood flow
and oxygen, our heart beats faster, our breathing quickens and we get ready to stand and
fight or run from danger.
How does it work?
The spinal cord is the main route for all pain messages to the brain, where pain is then
registered. Essentially there are two ways pain signals travel to the brain. The first is the
fast way (motorway) the second the slow way (side roads). The former leads to sharp
stabbing pain and the latter to a continuous dull and / or aching pain. Of course feelings of
pain can be a mixture of these two. There are also two distinct types of pain. They are
acute and chronic.
Acute pain usually means something new and or serious has happened and we may
need to take action (e.g., when we fall and hurt ourselves).
Chronic pain is more commonly associated with an old injury or the slow bodily
changes which are painful (e.g., 'growing pains' the pains of 'wear and tear', or old age).
How then can we manage chronic pain?
Just as pain signals travel up to the brain there are other signals which can travel down
from the brain and can block the pain signals (like a road block). By doing so they can
actually stop the brain receiving the pain message and thus not feel pains.
For these reasons we open talk about a Pain Gate which can be open and allow pain traffic (signals) through. Fortunately, we can also
close the gate to stop traffic entering and stop pain.
How can we block pain?
One way the brain can do this is by producing its own painkillers. The brain can produce these through exercise, relaxation, positive
thinking and enjoyable activity. These painkillers meet the pain signals on the road and block them (or close the gate).
The Gate Control Theory OF Pain
Blocking pain or closing the pain gate is central to pain management. It is said that it is the chemicals, described above, which block pain also help to produce the joggers' 'high' or that special serene feeling which occurs after lovemaking (which can send some people to
Increasing your control over your pain
The first way to take control over your pain is to tell yourself your pain is something you can learn to manage. We do not aim to get rid of pain
here, but to teach you how to manage it and keep the pain gate closed as much as possible. We can block pain signals in many ways. The main
ones you will be taught here are relaxation, pacing and exercise.
If you can learn to manage your pain you are on your way to rehabilitating to the best of your ability (this will be different for everyone).
Begin now by continuously reminding yourself that your pain does not mean you are in imminent danger.
Remember learning to control your pain takes Practice Patience, and
Prioritizing. Remember too that all new learning takes time.
A Summary: Chronic Pain
Over time, chronic pain can get you into habits which may aggravate your pain e.g. tension, low mood and inactivity. Such habits become part of
a vicious cycle which feeds the pain and keeps it central in your life.
Below are same suggestions for outwitting the pain and ettseffing up positive cycles instead, which put the pain back in its place and you back in
control of your life and your choices.
Distraction by having things to do and planning ahead
Distraction using specific distraction techniques
Pacing yourself in your activities using time rather than pain as a prompt to rest of change position
Finding things to do which give you a sense of pleasure and achievement
Managing your mood by challenging negative thoughts
Resolving relationship difficulties
Being assertive and clear with others about your needs