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What Is Gate Control Theory?

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Proposed by Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall during the early 1960s, gate control theory suggests that the spinal cord contains a neurological "gate" that either blocks pain signals or allows them to continue on to the brain. Unlike an actual gate, which opens and closes to allow things to pass through, the "gate" in the spinal cord operates by differentiating between the types of fibers carrying pain signals. Pain signals traveling via small nerve fibers are allowed to pass through, while signals sent by large nerve fibers are blocked. Gate control theory is often used to explain phantom or chronic pain.

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