Published on 14 Apr 2011 Sections

‘Optical illusion’ therapy could reduce arthritic pain

A scientific study by Nottingham University’s Psychology deartment has discovered how a visual ‘trick’ could help arthritis sufferers reduce the pain they endure.

A scientific study has discovered that sufferers of arthritis could have their pain soothed without the use of drugs, but with the help of an optical illusion.

Computer-generated image technology could ‘trick’ sufferers into believing they have less pain in their fingers. Called Mirage, the treatment works by patrients placing their hands into a box with a camera in it and then watching a real-time video of their hands projected in front of them. This image is then altered to stretch and shrink the hands and fingers on the screen resulting in a 50 percent reduction in the sensation of pain in 85 percent of cases tested. In addition some of the volunteers for the test found that they had greater movement in their hand following the treatment.

The small study, conducted by Scientists at the University of Nottingham’s Psychology department, was tested on a sample of arthritis sufferers with an average age of 70. The reseach found that a third of those tested stopped feeling pain alltogether whilst some saw reduced pain when the images were shrunk, others when they were stretched.

Like many treatments, the arthritic connection was found by accident. The technology used to create an optical illusion of having your hands stretched or crunched was initially used during an open day for families at Nottingham University. When one of the visiting family members, a garndmother of a potential student asked if she could have a go on the machine and discovered it greatly reduced the pain in her arthritic fingers.

Researchers have secured a £23,000 grant from the Dunhill Medical Trust to make further studies into the effectiveness of the technology.