Skip to main content

Gate Control Theory of Pain

  • Reference work entry
  • First Online:
Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine


Pain; Pain perception; Pain sensitivity


The gate control theory (GCT) of pain was introduced in 1965 by Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall. It was the first theory to introduce the concept that pain experience is not simply the result of a linear process that begins with the stimulation of pain pathways in the peripheral nervous system and ends with the experience of pain in the central nervous system. Rather, neural impulses that potentially signal pain from the peripheral nervous system are subject to a number of modulations in the spinal cord by a “gatelike” mechanism in the dorsal horn before the experience of pain is transmitted to the central nervous system (Melzack and Wall 1965). It also proposes that the gate mechanism is modulated by emotions, cognitive state, and past experiences. While this theory is based on physiology, it explains both sensory and psychological aspects of pain perception.


The gate control theory of pain was first introduced by...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
USD 1,199.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Hardcover Book
USD 1,599.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

References and Readings

  • Melzack, R. (1973). The puzzle of pain. Harmondsworth: Penguin Education.

    Google Scholar 

  • Melzack, R. (1993). Pain: Past, present and future. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 47(4), 615–629.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Melzack, R., & Wall, P. D. (1962). On the nature of cutaneous sensory mechanisms. Brain, 85, 331–356.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Melzack, R., & Wall, P. D. (1965). Pain mechanisms: A new theory. Science, 150, 971–979.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Melzack, R., & Wall, P. D. (1988). The challenge of pain. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tavis S. Campbell .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2020 Springer Nature Switzerland AG

About this entry

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this entry

Campbell, T.S., Johnson, J.A., Zernicke, K.A. (2020). Gate Control Theory of Pain. In: Gellman, M.D. (eds) Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine. Springer, Cham.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-030-39901-6

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-030-39903-0

  • eBook Packages: MedicineReference Module Medicine

Publish with us

Policies and ethics