Closing the Pain Gates

~ By Patricia Kay Youngson ~

Let’s talk about the mechanics of pain and what can help.  Nerves all through the body can pick up pain sensations, sending them up through the spinal cord to the brain.  The areas in the brain 1) Make us feel pain, 2) Give us thoughts about pain.  “Will this ever stop .” and 3) Result in feelings about the pain, typically anxiety, depression, and anger.  The good news is that there are gates in the spinal cord that can either open or close to the pain and we are in control of those gates.

There are several ways to close the pain gates, such as sensations that override the pain such as rubbing, cold, heat, a menthol cream or a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit that delivers a mild electrical current.  Endorphins from the brain also help close the pain gates.  Endorphins are brain chemicals that are related to morphine.  You can general them many ways, such as with laughter, eating chilli peppers, meditation, exercise, sunshine, music, socializing and pleasure in general, such as sexual activity.  Many of these endorphin promoting activities are distractions, which in themselves help relieve pain.  Other distractions are reading, TV, movies and anything else you enjoy.

You can reduce pain promoting inflammation with anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and foods with omega-3 oils (salmon, walnuts, flax seed, and sardines).  You can reduce chemicals that produce pain with healthful food,certain herbs, exercise, massage, and healing touch.  Avoid gate-opening foods such as white flour, sugar, french fries, and potato chips.  Other pain-gate openers are poor sleep, anxiety, worry, depression, and too little activity as well as too much activity.

Think of five things you already do that help relieve your pain and make a conscious effort to use them.

Patricia Kay Youngson is an RN and a Counselor who works with pain issues. E-mail:, website

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