Can Simply Looking At Where It Hurts Reduce Pain?

11/02/2011 09:54 | Updated 22 May 2015

Could taking painkillers ever become a thing of the past? Well you never know. Scientists have already claimed touch can help relieve pain - as in rubbing it better. And now researchers from University College London and the University of Milano-Bicocca suggest that just looking at a part of your body that hurts could reduce pain too.

womans-eye-close-up-body-image-painStrange but perhaps true: looking at your body can reduce pain. Photo: Getty

Many will say it's the latest evidence to support the idea that the mind strongly influences what happens in the body.

Writing in the journal Psychological Science, the experts describe how they carried out tests on volunteers that involved placing heat probes on the volunteers' hands.

The researchers gradually increased the temperature of the probe, then the volunteers stopped the heat by pressing a foot pedal as soon as the pain became intolerable. The volunteers were instructed to look at their hand, but a set of mirrors were used to manipulate what they saw, and while some did indeed see their hand, others saw a wooden object instead.

What was significant about this test was that the participants who saw their hand - rather than the wooden object - were able to withstand higher temperatures from the heat probe. Another test used mirrors that either increased or decreased the size of the image of the volunteers' hands, and when they saw the larger reflection of their hand the volunteers tolerated greater levels of heat before stopping the probe.

"The image that the brain forms of our own body has a strong effect on the experienced level of pain," says Flavia Mancini, the study's lead author. "The way the body is represented influences the level of pain experienced."

Fascinating, isn't it? There again we don't think we'll be giving up headache tablets just yet.

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