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Jordan Gaines
Pennsylvania State University USA

A blog on biology, psychology, cognition, learning, memory, aging, and everything in between. Explaining recent discoveries in neuroscience, translated to language we can all understand!

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A very exciting event is happening as I type this: Neuroscience 2011, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. This nerd-tastic event attracts a bevy (over 30,000, to be more precise) of the best and brightest in brain research under one roof once a year. This year's meeting is in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately for me, I am not in attendance; but fortunately for myself and, hopefully, my readers, new research radiating from this meeting gives me some great material to share.

On Saturday, the first day of the meeting, a new study was described that involves tricking arthritis sufferers with mirrors to alleviate their pain. Wait—what? Mirrors?

This technique of "mirror therapy" creates an illusion in which a healthy hand (in this case, that of lead researcher Laura Case's) is reflected where the sufferer's sore hand should be. Mimicking a series of motions strengthens the sensation of swapped appendages.

In this study, eight volunteers were recruited, each with either osteo- or rheumatoid arthritis. After experiencing the optical illusion, the participants reported an average 1.5-point reduction in pain on a 10-point scale, with some volunteers claiming as much as a 3-point drop.

Typically, this mirror illusion is performed with a volunteer's own healthy hand. Using the experimenter's hand instead, Case explains, may aid in pain reduction by removing the gnarled, sore image.

The power of vision as a placebo seems to be winning out here. Since Case's study only examined pain immediately before and after the illusion, we can't yet conclude that mirror therapy can provide lasting relief.

Can mirrors be a viable alternative to drugs? Maybe. But it's reassuring to know that there are plenty of mirrors in the world should one be snowed in this winter with a limited supply of Celebrex.

For timely updates on the Neuroscience 2011 meeting (ending Wednesday), follow @Neurosci2011 on Twitter, or join the conversation at #SfN11. 

Photo courtesy WeHeartIt.

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I missed out on this particular talk last week.  Reminds me of Ramachandran's work.  Thanks for sharing!

Chris Harmon

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It shows the power of the human mind to heal. If we do not see/assume injury we can feel less pain. To someone who is currently in remission for fibromyalgia I can say that being both in and out of pain are self-feeding cycles...I definitely prefer the pain free loop.. and seeing myself as a pain free person has helped- so seeing *your* hand move about pain free could help with pain.

Jordan Gaines
Pennsylvania State University
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Good call Ragamuffin--Laura Case is part of the Ramachandran lab!

Chris, thanks for your input. The human mind does a lot of interesting things to our bodies, doesn't it? Hope you are feeling better.

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