freelance journalist, print journalist, online journalist, copywriter, content editor, freelance editor, health and lifestyle, blogger Mind over matter: can optical illusions reduce joint pain? | Christine Morgan - Journalist
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There’s a fascinating story in today’s press about one of my favourite concepts: mind over matter. I’ve always suspected that what we think has a powerful effect on our physical health (let alone our mental health). And here’s more evidence that it really is the case. The story in question comes from the University of Nottingham, where scientists accidentally discovered how an optical illusion makes people with arthritic finger joints feel less pain.

Developed by experts at the university’s psychology department, the optical illusion comes in the shape of a box – called the Mirage. When you put your hand in the box, you can see what’s happening inside on a screen in front of you. At the other end of the box, someone puts their hand inside too and manipulates yours. And thanks to the wonders of CGI, when they pull your finger, it looks like your finger is being stretched far more than it possibly could be in reality (and shrunk when your finger is pushed). The amazing part, however, is that volunteers taking part in tests – all of whom had arthritis in their hands – said ‘seeing’ their fingers being stretched/shrunk (when in reality, they weren’t) actually relieved the pain.

Is it just me or is that a phenomenal result? In 85 percent of volunteers, the optical illusion resulted in a 50 percent reduction in pain. You’ve got to admit, that’s pretty impressive.

The researchers stumbled upon the effect when a grandmother – who had arthritis in her hand – wanted to have a go at seeing her hand stretched/shrunk while her grandchildren were playing with the box at an open day. When she said her hand felt much better while she watched it being manipulated, the researchers knew they were onto something.

So who knows, perhaps it could lead to drug-free treatments for pain – which, if you suffer from chronic pain and are constantly taking painkillers, like many arthritis sufferers, must sound like a wonderful idea.

In the meantime, we can all use the power of optical illusion. It’s called visualisation. It may not be the same as ‘seeing’ something that’s not really happening (as opposed to visualising it), but surely the result of this study – which will be published in the next issue of the medical journal Rheumatology – suggests our minds have far more power than any of us realise, at least when it comes to controlling pain.