CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Sept. 23 (UPI) — Touching our bodies as we experience acute pain may give the brain a better picture of what’s happening in the body and can lessen pain, U.K. researchers say.
A mental representation of the body was thought to be a factor in only chronic pain sufferers, as when amputees experience phantom limb pain because the brain’s mental picture of the body isn’t up-to-date, LiveScience.com reported.
A study published in the journal Current Biology says mental pictures are also important in the experience of acute pain.
Study participants were asked to place the index and middle fingers of both hands in water warmed to 109 degrees F while simultaneously submerging their middle fingers into cool 57 F water.
The temperature difference created the illusion the middle fingers were in extremely hot water and caused pain, as the brain was tricked into thinking the fingers had been scalded when they weren’t.
When participants were next instructed to touch the fingers of one hand to the other, they reported a 64-percent reduction in the pain they felt in their middle fingers.
The researchers think touching the hands together was not only providing the brain with feedback about the fingers’ real temperature, it also allowed the brain to create a more coherent picture of the body.
“In other words, self-touch affects how the brain represents the current state of the body,” Marjolein Kammers of University College London said, “and that can influence the way we experience pain.”
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