Pain Mechanisms: A New Theory



Ronald Melzack, Patrick D. Wall

Publication Identity

Science 19 Nov 1965: Vol. 150, Issue 3699, pp. 971-979





“A gate control system modulates sensory input from the skin before it evokes pain perception and response”
Ronald Melzack and Patrick D. Wall

Tha nature of pain has been the subject of bitter controversy since the turn of the century (1).

There are currently two opposing theories of pain: (i) specificity theory, which holds that pain is a specific modality like vision or hearing, “with its own central and peripheral apparatus”(2), and (ii) pattern theory, which maintains that the nerve impulse pattern for pain is produced by intense stimulation of nonspecific receptors since “there are no specific fibers and no specific endings”(3).

Both theories derive from earlier concepts proposed by von Frey (4) and Goldscheider (5) in 1894, and historically they are held to be mutually exclusive.

Since it is our purpose here to propose a new theory of pain mechanisms, we shall state explicity at the outset where we agree and disagree with specificity and pattern theories.