Massage therapists know how powerful the mind-body connection can be; new research shows how a person in pain literally sees her affected body area has a direct correlation to the amount of pain she experiences.

Patients with chronic pain and dysfunction in one arm watched that arm while performing 10 specific hand movements, repeated under four conditions: with no visual manipulation, while looking through binoculars with no magnification, while looking through binoculars that doubled the apparent size of their arm, and while looking through inverted binoculars that reduced the apparent size of their arm.

The patients’ pain worsened when they viewed a magnified image of their arm during the movements, and the pain became less when their arm was seen through inverted binoculars that minimized its size.

The findings reveal the effect of body image on body tissues, according to the researchers.

“The brain is capable of many wonderful things based on its perception of how the body is doing and the risks to which the body seems to be exposed,” said researcher G. Lorimer Moseley.

The research was reported in the Nov. 25 issue of Current Biology.