People who suffer from chronic pain can greatly improve their condition just by looking at the area where the pain is occurring, reveals an Anglo-Italian study.

For the study, thirty healthy subjects were invited to look either their own hand, the experimenter’s hand, or an object, while their hand was subjected to laser-induced pain.

The results showed that when the sufferer could see their own hand, they felt less pain than if they were looking at the experimenter’s hand or a neutral object. The researchers found that there were subjective (self-report) and objective (brain potential) measures of the person’s pain sensation.

They also found that the result was the same whether the subjects were looking at their actual hand or a mirror image-the latter using a technique, previously used to reduce phantom limb pain in amputees.

This is the first time such an experiment has been done on subjects who did not suffer from pre-existing body image issues.

Faculty of 1000 reviewer Alumit Ishai, of the University of Zurich, was very impressed with the result.

“These novel findings suggest that viewing the body modulates the subjective perception of pain. Although the mechanism that mediates this analgesic effect is unclear ... the potential therapeutic implications for patients with chronic pain are huge,” Ishai said. The study has been published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

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