Arthritis pain was reduced by 50 percent in patients tricked into believing that the painful part of their hand was being stretched or shrunk, in a new research study. Eighty-five percent of the patients experienced this effect during research conduced by researchers at The University of Nottingham, United Kingdom.

The 20 subjects had an average age of 70, and were had all been diagnosed with arthritic pain in the hands or fingers, according to a university press release.

None of the subjects medically managed their pain on the day of the study by anything stronger than acetaminophen. Before starting the test they were asked to rate their pain on a 21-point scale, with 0 indicating no pain and 20 representing the most unbearable pain imaginable.

The research team used Nottingham’s unique MIRAGE technology, which takes a real-time video capture image of a hand and uses computer manipulations combined with physically pulling or pushing on the hand to fool the brain into believing the hand is stretching or shrinking, the press release noted.

The team then compared the MIRAGE body illusion to just physically pushing and pulling on the painful parts of the volunteers’ hands to test the effect on their pain. Other control tests were conducted by stretching or shrinking a non-painful part of the hand and visually enlarging or reducing the whole hand.

The results showed a marked reduction in pain, on average halving the discomfort for 85 per cent of volunteers. Some reported greater reduction in pain for stretching, some for shrinking and some for both. The pain reduction only worked when painful parts of the hand were manipulated.

The results will be reported in a letter in a forthcoming edition of the journal Rheumatology.

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