Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

Where there is stimulation, there is counterstimulation

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Once again I find myself “announcing” a “new” article that has actually been available on for quite some time — almost a year now. I just haven’t promoted it until now. Two weeks ago I did this with “What Works for Pain?” This article isn’t as a big deal, but it’s still an important topic that I probably should have written about a decade ago, because it’s relevant to most kinds of pain treatments:


Counterwhat, now? From the introduction:

Counterstimulation is a basic neurological mechanism for minor temporary pain relief, a sensory “distraction” from pain. It is used, and perhaps overused, as an explanation for the benefits of popular treatments like ultrasound, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), massage therapy, Kinesio Tape, RUB A535, acupuncture, and vibration therapy.

Counterstimulation is certainly a real thing — firmly based on the well-known neurological principle of “gate control” — but it’s not a potent thing. You could call it another tool for the pain treatment toolbox, but it’s not an impressive tool. Maybe just like a small screwdriver or a tack hammer.

However, even humble tools have good uses in the right circumstances. Sometimes a small screwdriver is exactly what you need. And there’s a cousin of counterstimulation that might have much broader significance to chronic pain patients: maybe enough of the right kind of sensation can drown out pain in a more robust way.

Read the whole article [~2,750 words, ~10-minute read]:

Counterstimulation: Minor but reliable, counterstimulation is one of the most basic pain-killing mechanisms in biology… and maybe there’s a fancier version that’s more useful.