The Pain-Gate Theory: How chiropractic care creates motion to inhibit pain

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October 29, 2014

Our body is a network of nerves that signal the brain as to whether we experience fine touch, pressure, vibration, temperature changes or pain. Pain nerves are tonically firing, which means that they are always sending signals toward the brain. This is important and explains why we react so quickly to a hot stove, or a pin prick. Thus, the question should arise as to why we don't always feel pain? The reason for this is that movement, or proprioception inhibits pain. 

Pressure, movement, vibration and fine touch are receptors that belong to a class of nerves known as 1A and 1B nerve fibers. These are large nerve fibers that transmit information very quickly when the appropriate receptors are stimulated. Pain fibers are type C fibers, slower and less conductive than 1A and 1B fibers. 

1A and 1B fibers, when activated send a collateral nerve impulse that is inhibitory to type C fibers, essentially inhibiting pain. Pain is only felt once the message is received in the brain, hence why pain is different for each person- it depends on their own brain. It's really quite simple, if movement is appropriate than we will not feel pain. But what happens when we stop moving? PAIN!

A perfect example would be to examine two vertebrae in the spine. They are either healthy (moving) or unhealthy (not moving). They have muscles and ligaments that attach them to one other, and attach to other structures such as our ribs, scapulae, pelvis, extremities, et cetera. Our spine has to move in order to active 1A and 1B signals, but when we experience pain in our spine and other regions we are experiencing a lack of motion within our joints- they are effectively stuck together. The muscles around these regions tighten up and further reduce motion, creating inflammatory responses and thus pain. 

So how do we get rid of the pain? We move the spine or joints in question to regain normal feedback to the brain via 1A and 1B fibers, instead of type C-fibers winning the race to realization of pain. 

At Portland Chiropractic Neurology, located in Southern Maine in downtown Portland, we are committed to increasing motion, and we love type 1A and 1B fibers.