[Neurophysiological bases of the counterirritation phenomenon:diffuse control inhibitors induced by nociceptive stimulation]

Neurophysiol Clin. 1999 Oct;29(5):379-400. doi: 10.1016/S0987-7053(00)87263-9.
[Article in French]


To define the counterirritation phenomenon, we might refer to the Hippocratic aphorism: 'If two sufferings take place at the same time, but at different points, the stronger one makes the weaker silent'. On the basis of this clinically common observation, often used advantageously by the patients themselves, a number of therapeutic methods have been developed which are grouped under the terms counterirritation or counterstimulation. This phenomenon has not been scientifically analysed until recent years. Experimental results gathered during the last decade have shown that counterirritation phenomena have a well-defined neural substrate both in animals and in man. In particular, they have proved not to rely on segmental mechanisms, but rather imply spino-bulbo-spinal loops involving ascending pathways in the anterolateral spinal columns, integration in the lower brain stem, and descending influences reaching dorsal horn neurons via the dorsolateral quadrant. The results also suggest that the study of counterirritation is essential for accessing the physiology of nociception and pain control. The very existence of the counterirritation phenomenon is the easiest demonstrable index of a specific system for pain modulation in man. Besides its scientific interest, the elucidation of its neurophysiological bases has clinical importance, in as much as it may ameliorate our understanding of certain pain syndromes and contribute to the development of new investigative and therapeutic procedures.

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Nociceptors / physiology*
  • Pain / physiopathology*