Chazot Thoughts 48

The gate-control theory


The gate-control theory of pain suggests that on occasion there is a benefit to the organism of being able to block pain information either by direct neural feedback or by generalized release of opioid neurochemicals called endorphins.” (C.A. Slaslow, 2003)

Pain sensations have been found to be additive. For instance, in humans, low level stimulation of two teeth can produce excruciating pain whereas same strength stimulation of either tooth alone may produce only mild discomfort. That would explain why sometime the horse pain reaction is disproportional to the gravity of the lesion. This phenomenon has been the subject of so many behavioral misinterpretations. Because the same strength stimulation only causes mild discomfort with other horses, the one reacting intensively is regarded as a Sissy and punished for his behavior.” I was waiting for this thought. He was absorbed by the study and did not seem to realize that we feel and manage pain the same way even if we express it differently.


The claim that “animals do not feel pain like we do”, has been used as a human excuses for abusing us as well as other animals. Indeed, this Gorilla perfectly expresses our opinion about such statement.


Giving credit to better humans, the subject has been approached by the work of B. Gavzer,”Are our Zoos humans?” (Parade Mag. 26 March 4-8, 1989) Truly, the ability of our brain and body to regulate pain perception is similar to other mammals.  The first evidence is that some parts of our body do have a very large number of pain receptors such as intestines and blood vessels while other parts lack such receptors. He told me that the human brain completely lacked pain receptors. A thought crossed my mind that pain receptors was not the only element that the human brain was lacking. I guess, he caught my thought as he looked at me smiling.

He told me one day that humans are capable of strange psychological phenomena. The placebo effect is a phenomenon where the pain is reduced because the patient believes that a chemically inert pill will help. Others find calming effects through rapid eating period. However, there is a scientific reality behind these practices, which is a release of endorphin in the blood stream.


Real horse persons know that the presence of someone that we like and trust decreases our pain perception. It is well known today that the best pain management is increasing endorphin release while decreasing Sympathetic Nervous System. I remember one day during my racing career, I was very worried due to intestinal pain and my handlers tried to “put a stop to my reactions.” This primitive approach to nociception costed them some injuries as I fought back intensively. At the contrary I don’t know if I would have survived without Helyn’s absolute support and intense determinations during the night of terror where I almost lost my life. Manchester remembered, “It was absolute terror. Your eyes glazed over as if you were gone and Helyn screamed NOOOOO. She did not yell at you as they did in the dark age “ to stop the process” as they say. It was a supplication to stay with her and you came back. This happened several times. You did not seem very conscious at this time but when you came back from the hospital one week later you told me that she was the one who carried you back to life. 


Medications are helpful of course but the support of a person that we trust is also helpful and in many instances we need both. However, we need someone who is there for us. We don’t need vocal demonstrations of love. We need true energy. If one stays with us letting know to everyone else, through cellular phone that one is baby seating us for colic, one should let us alone. Interestingly, pain research about diurnal fluctuation of endorphin release observed that the higher level of beta-endorphin occurs early morning. A year ago, as I had problems with a series of abcess in my right foot, I looked at him early morning for grazing in his company. I loved that he took the time to graze with me. He told me, “A little later; the highest level of beta-endorphin occurs in the early morning and correlate with decreased nociceptive (pain) sensitivity. If you feel less pain you might move more than you should.” Having said that; he changed my bandage. I often wondered why he was doing that early morning rather than late evening. Now I know. In all aspect of our life, the practical application of scientific knowledge does make our life easier.


There are primitive applications of gate control of pain which are creating pain at a different place to distract us from greater pain. The practice of twisting our upper lip with a tightly twisted loop is based on this concept. We don’t like it of course. However, there is a physiological basis on this old theory. It decreases our heart rate reaction to pain and raised concentration of  beta-endorphins in the bloodstream. He does not use the twist nose and never the less ear twist. When I was on the race track, they applied once the ear twisting. I never let them apply this barbaric technique again. In fact, I was deeply traumatized by the practice. Even today, which is five years later, I never let any stranger approaching their hand from my ears. Helyn and he can clean my ear as long as they want as I have no fear about both of them, but the memory of the excruciating pain caused by this ear twisting is still strong and real.

There are many ways to increase endorphin release without aggressive move. In human therapy, there is a man named Pete Egoscue that does to humans what he does to us. The title of Pete approach is “Pain free through motion.” This is what he does. His approach to gate-control of pain is concentrating our mind on proper motion. It is doubly effective; on a short term, it reduces our pain level and on a long term, the approach identifies and corrects the root cause of the kinematics abnormality causing the lesion and therefore pain.

Peoples who do not know or superficially understand the science of motion always try integrating the perspective explained in the publications, to their familiar views. The science of motion is not a complement to existing therapies, it is another generation. It is a deeper understanding and practical application of advanced research studies. Arthritis for instance, commences in the subchondral bone. It starts with microfracture or other lesions in the subchondral bone before altering the cartilage. Pharmaceutic companies have spent millions of dollars focusing on cartilages and trying to find effective drug. The new generations of research studies are now explaining that it is primarily a problem of abnormal loading. The title of a recent study about knee arthritis in human is “Unload it.” This is what the science of motion does.  Caesar was scheduled to be put to sleep because of serious arthritis problem between the second phalange and coffin bone of his left front leg. He is now sound and the approach has been teaching him proper balance. Basically, applying advanced knowledge of the quine vertebral column mechanism, Caesar learned how to convert the thrust generated by the hind legs into greater vertical forces. Doing so, the load on the foreleg diminished and Caesar regained soundness. It was not that simple of course. They worked with the veterinary clinics to properly diagnose the problem. They work with the farrier to properly align the coffin bone. They familiarly refer to the “feed room” as the “Science lab” because there are numerous vitamins and supplements that are part of our feeding program. He started Caesar rehabilitation creating perfect hoof placement through the unique in hand technique of the science of motion. Yes it is in hand work but the technique is totally different from the techniques holding the reins in two hands and touching the horse with a whip or other probe. This is the problem with the equestrian words. All the good words and phrases have already been used but associated with primitive understanding of proper biomechanics.


When Caesar came back from his first lesson in hand, he told us. “They worked me in hand before but never like that. I was skeptical at first but he was gentle, letting me process. I was surprise that I basically can feel the tone of his back muscles and when I realized that adjusting the tone of my back muscles to him, the pain level diminished, I became interested. I started to understand why he does not use acupuncture or other approaches. It is not that he does not believe in such approaches. He just achieves the same results and more through educated motion. There are evidences in human that acupuncture effects are partly mediated through endorphin release. He creates endorphin release through motion and my concentration. I say “and more’” because he does not stop at the level of lesser pain. He also identifies and addresses the root cause of the kinematics abnormality causing abnormal stresses on my left front leg joint. At first I was thinking that is magic; he works my back and the pain on my lower joint diminish. You prepared me to this approach when I arrived, telling me that he will not manipulate my joint but instead, he will concentrate on the source of the kinematics abnormality causing excessive load on the subchondral bone of my left front leg. I smiled politely wondering if I just landed in the middle of a cuckoo net. Having felt what I just felt, there is no contest. I rather be a pain free cuckoo than a traditional horse in pain.”

Chazot