When it comes to the way our bodies sense pain, an older theory called “the gate-control theory” is still top-dog in the medical science community. According to this theory, there are specialized nerve cells in the spinal cord that act as “gatekeepers” to filter pain messages en route to your brain. Whenever you experience serious bodily harm—like when you’re leaning on the hot stove—the gate is wide open so pain messages can take an express route to your brain. (I.e., “Move away from the stove, pronto!”) Fascinatingly, nerve fibers that transmit touch also affect these gatekeeper cells by decreasing the transmission of pain signals, which is why rubbing a sore part of your body makes it feel better. It’s the same reason acupuncture might work too—the sensory touch-points close the gate so pain sensations can’t get through.

QUIZ: Are You Experiencing Pain?