Vail Daily column: How to manage pain with the Gate Theory
April 14, 2014
As we all know, aging can be a pain in the neck (literally … and in the back, legs, etc.). The process of aging does many things to our bodies (i.e., muscles begin to lose their strength, eyesight often becomes worse and on and on and on). Often, another issue is the decrease in our pain threshold. As we age, we feel pain more readily and more intensely, as evidenced by the fact that pain is the most common reason people seek medical attention (http://science.howstuffworks.com).
Gate Theory Of Pain
Back in the 1960s, Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall developed the Gate Control Theory of Pain. It is only recently, though, that the healing community (this includes not only medical professionals, but also non-traditional medical professionals such as massage therapists, acupuncture practitioners, etc.) began to realize how significant the Gate Theory might be in the treatment of chronic pain. This philosophical change is something that could help millions of the elderly who suffer from chronic pain.
Pain is a difficult theory to grasp: It is part psychological and part physiological. The two major systems that make up the transmission of pain are the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.
When you cut your finger, for example, pain messages are sent along the periphery nerves to the spinal cord that are then carried to the brain via the central nervous system. However, the Gate Theory says that these pain messages encounter some sort of gate system when they enter the spinal cord. At times, these gates are open and we might feel intense pain (depending on the seriousness of the wound) or we might feel very little pain.
Nerve fibers, two of which are A-delta and C-fiber, carry the pain messages to the brain at different speeds. The Gate Theory suggests that by using different stimuli at different times during the transmittal of the pain to the spinal cord, one might soften the effects of chronic pain. For example, the use of massage or acupuncture could reduce the amount of pain the brain receives by closing the gates and not allowing the full pain message to reach the brain.
Try to think of it this way — when you fall off your bike and you scrape your knee, it most likely is bleeding and the pain is often intense. But, by rubbing the area around the injury and dabbing the bleeding area with a cloth soaked in water, the pain seems to immediately lessen from intense to a dull throb. This is the Gate Theory in practice.
The purpose of this article is to simply open your eyes to other ways of treating chronic pain. The aging process isn't often very kind to us. Sometime it can leave us wondering how to deal with the aftermath of a debilitating injury or the pain that is associated with our aging bodies (hip pain, back pain, joint pain, etc.). If you can theoretically step outside the Western style of medicine and begin to realize that many other countries are dealing with their physiological and psychological needs at least as well as we are, and often times better, then we might begin to blend Western and Eastern medicines into a very effective style – one that could do all of us a world of good.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. His contact information is: http://www.visiting angels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526.