When something hurts, whether its mental anguish, stress or physical pain, our natural reaction is to stop the pain ASAP.
We visit the doctor, take a plethora of pills, and try every new fad diet under the sun to get rid of that pesky pain. But here’s a thought: When you experience pain, have you ever considered just closing the gate?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. That’s a staggering amount of pain distracting and preventing us from leading our best lives – pain that for many isn’t always alleviated with traditional approaches.
Over the years, due to the perceived unsatisfactory results of conventional pain treatments, we have seen a rise in the use of complementary and integrative therapies. More people are willing to experiment with holistic healing, therapeutic massage and other alternative pain and stress management techniques.
In the early 1960s, Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall proposed the “gate control theory.” This theory examines the way large and small nerve fibers interact with the dorsal horn, which is located in the body’s spinal cord and receives, processes and transmits to the brain incoming sensory information. Our large nerve fibers are used in the general activity of our body such as movement, touch and sensing pressure and are not typically responsible for relaying pain to the brain. Our small nerve fibers (pain fibers), however, are responsible for pain transmission.
The theory suggests that activating the large nerve fibers with movement and stimulation, e.g., by exercise and touch, diminishes the amount of pain information the small fibers can transmit to the brain. This is because the dorsal horn acts as a “gate” (picture a subway turnstile) and only the more excited of the two nerve signals can pass through that gate.
So in a nutshell, when the human body experiences more large fiber activity (exercise, massage, acupuncture, etc.), people generally experience less pain.
There is no quick fix, and the right path to individual pain management varies on the specifics of the ailment and should always be discussed with one’s doctor. But a growing body of research supports the benefits of therapeutic massage, exercise and stress management techniques to help mitigate pain associated with a growing list of ailments – such as low-back pain, fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, arthritis, tension headaches, post-operative pain, cancer and others.
I hope this explanation has inspired you to consider the multitude of pain management options available to you and motivated you to stimulate those large muscle fibers and close your “pain gate.” Get out there and exercise, dance, give someone a hug and maybe even treat yourself to a massage.
Holly Wright of Bluffton is a Reiki Master, reflexologist, NASM certified personal fitness trainer, and co-owner of Trinity TheraSpa in Moss Creek Village. trinitytheraspa.com