An exploratory investigation into the longevity of pain reduction following multisensory illusions designed to alter body perception

Catherine Preston*, Helen R Gilpin, Roger Newport

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Previous research suggests that multisensory body illusions that alter the conscious bodily experience can modulate pain in osteoarthritis, which may be a result of modifying cortical misrepresentations of the painful body part. However, the longevity and underlying mechanisms of such illusion-induced analgesia is unknown.

OBJECTIVES: This study aimed to investigate the therapeutic potential of body illusions, specifically examining the longevity of pain relief and effects on subjective joint flexibility. We also aimed to test if illusory-induced analgesia was due to limb disownership, which is also thought to be affected by body illusions.

METHOD: Multisensory stretch and shrink illusions were used to manipulate mental representations in hand osteoarthritis. Experiment 1 examined longevity of analgesia by comparing pre-illusion pain ratings with post-illusion ratings taken immediately and over a period of four minutes both with and without vision of the manipulated limb. Experiment 2 compared changes in subjective flexibility between the illusion types. Experiment 3 tested whether an illusion that induced a temporary experience of hand loss would indicate limb disownership as a mechanism for modulating pain during body illusions.

RESULTS: Illusion-induced analgesia was found to outlast the direct application of both shrink and stretch illusions. Illusory stretching provided more clinically significant pain reduction along with increased subjective flexibility. Disownership of the limb had no effect on pain ratings.

CONCLUSIONS: Illusory stretching of the joints in osteoarthritis may have significant clinical potential in development of future pain treatments. The results are also compatible with theories of cortical involvement of pain in osteoarthritis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102080
Number of pages8
JournalMusculoskeletal science & practice
Early online date14 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020

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