Hurt your hand? Simply crossing your arms may provide some relief, according to a new study published in the journal Pain.
Researchers at University College London (UCL) found that crossing the hands over to the opposite side ‘muddles’ the brain and makes it more difficult to perceive pain.
Through the use of a laser, researchers created a four millisecond pin-prick of pain to the hands of study participants, then repeated the exercise with their arms crossed. The volunteers were then asked to rank the level of pain they felt. In addition, their brains' electrical reactions were measured with electroencephalography (EEG).
Test subjects reported a reduction in pain perception when their arms were crossed, the same result shown by EEG. The reduction in pain was small – only around three percent – but significant, according to the study.
Lead researcher, Dr. Giandomenico Iannetti of the UCL department of physiology, pharmacology and neuroscience said, “Areas of the brain that contain the map of the right body and the map of right external space are usually activated together, leading to highly effective processing of sensory stimuli.
“When you cross your arms these maps are not activated together anymore, leading to less effective brain processing of sensory stimuli, including pain, being perceived as weaker.”
This approach likely works best with hand pain, says the research team, but they have yet to test it on other areas of the body.
The study results could aid in the development of new and better methods of treating pain in the future. The team is now working with Australian researchers to test this theory on people who have conditions that cause chronic pain.
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