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The analgesic effect of crossing the arms

Gallace, A.a; Torta, D. M.E.b,c; Moseley, G. L.d; Iannetti, G. D.b,*

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doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2011.02.029

The ability to determine precisely the location of sensory stimuli is fundamental to how we interact with the world; indeed, to our survival. Crossing the hands over the body midline impairs this ability to localize tactile stimuli. We hypothesized that crossing the arms would modulate the intensity of pain evoked by noxious stimulation of the hand. In two separate experiments, we show (1) that the intensity of both laser-evoked painful sensations and electrically-evoked nonpainful sensations were decreased when the arms were crossed over the midline, and (2) that these effects were associated with changes in the multimodal cortical processing of somatosensory information. Critically, there was no change in the somatosensory-specific cortical processing of somatosensory information. Besides studies showing relief of phantom limb pain using mirrors, this is the first evidence that impeding the processes by which the brain localises a noxious stimulus can reduce pain, and that this effect reflects modulation of multimodal neural activities. By showing that the neural mechanisms by which pain emerges from nociception represent a possible target for analgesia, we raise the possibility of novel approaches to the treatment of painful clinical conditions.

Crossing the arms over the midline impairs multimodal processing of somatosensory stimuli and induces significant analgesia to noxious hand stimulation.

Sponsorships or competing interests that may be relevant to content are disclosed at the end of this article.

a Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy

b Department of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology, University College London, UK

c Department of Psychology, University of Turin, Italy

d The Sansom Institute for Health Research, University of South Australia, Adelaide, and Neuroscience Research Australia, Sydney, Australia

*Corresponding author. Address: Department of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology, University College London, Medical Sciences Building, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK. Tel.: +44 (0) 20 7679 3759.

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Article history: Received 24 May 2010; Received in revised form 22 December 2010; Accepted 10 February 2011.

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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