Neurochemistry of Pain Relief Using Feldenkrais

Using the widely accepted Wall and Melzack “Gate Control Theory” of pain, Feldenkrais may work to achieve pain relief by activating pain inhibitory cells in the spinal cord.

The Gate Control theory proposes that inhibitory nerve cells in the spinal cord control whether a pain impulse coming from the periphery, such as the foot, is relayed to the brain or not.

A Swiss research team has discovered which inhibitory neurons in the spinal cord are responsible for this control function. As the study published in Neuron shows, the control cells for the gate are located in the spinal cord and use the amino acid glycine as an inhibitory messenger.

Based on everyday experience we know that gently rubbing or holding an injured extremity can alleviate pain in this area. According to Gate Control theory, non-painful contact (touch) with the skin activates the inhibitory cells. The researchers verified this hypothesis and confirmed that the inhibitory, glycine-releasing neurons are innervated by such touch-sensitive skin nerves (mechanoreceptors.)

The pharmacologists were also able to demonstrate that neurons (nociceptors) where the relay of the pain signals takes place are primarily inhibited by glycine signals. These findings identify for the first time the neurons and connections that underlie the Gate Control Theory of pain.

Pain relief is often achieved by a single simple, yet precise Feldenkrais lesson. This can now partially be explained by mechanoreceptors activated by the simple touch of a Feldenkrais practitioner. Pain relief is also achieved by the overall improvement in the body’s organization for movement, mediated in the brain by the process of neuroplasticity.