Arthritic pain can be eased by an optical illusion relying on mirrors to trick the brain.
A simple trick makes it seem as if the painful joints have been replaced by healthier ones, causing the brain to believe it is less stiff and painful.
The technique, which has also been used to help amputees overcome ‘phantom limb’ pain, could help millions of sufferers relieve the symptoms of arthritis without the need for more drugs.
University of California researchers in San Diego helped patients reduce their pain by an average of one-and-a-half points on a 10-point scale after just a minute of treatment, the Telegraph reports.
Treating a patient with arthritis in their right hand, the researchers asked them to place it on a table and blocked it from view using an upright mirror.
A researcher standing behind the patient then put their left hand on the table in front of them, so that its reflection appeared where the patient’s right arm should be.
They then asked the patient to copy their movements as they opened and closed their hand, so that when they looked in the mirror they saw a supple and healthy hand performing the action in place of their own.
The illusion convinced the brain that the hand in the mirror was its own, and the patient felt less pain as a result, according to reports.
Laura Case, who led the research, said: “Our findings suggest that simple and inexpensive materials like mirrors could be used to reduce the pain and suffering caused by this common disease. Many patients reported a reduction in pain and stiffness during this illusion.”