A mathematical model of the gate control theory of pain

N F Britton, S M Skevington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The first test which any theory of pain must pass is that it must be able to explain the phenomena observed in acute pain in humans. This criterion is used to test the major theory of pain at present, the gate control theory of Melzack & Wall (1965, 1982). The theory is explicit enough to be cast in mathematical terms, and the mathematical model is shown to explain the observations considered. It also points up a common misconception on the consequences of the theory, and thus demolishes an argument which has been used against it. A hypothesis of the origin of rhythmic pain is then made, and consequent testable predictions given. This is the first time that the gate control theory has been used to explain any quality of pain. It has important consequences for the treatment of such pain. Finally, the applicability of the gate control theory as an explanation for chronic pain is discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-105
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 1989


  • Humans
  • Mathematics
  • Models, Neurological
  • Pain


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