Great new paper from Abby Tabor et al (with a list of authors representing some real heavy hitters in the field as well as the next generation of heavy hitters), it’s open access at the link above and very much worth a read.
“Pain is an experience that powerfully influences the way we interact with our environment. What is less clear is the influence that pain has on the way we perceive our environment. We investigated the effect that the anticipation of experimental pain (THREAT) and its relief (RELIEF) has on the visual perception of space”
“Conventionally, pain research focuses on behavior, subject affect, physiology as well as cognition (Mcmahon et al., 2013). Yet, as an experience that affects the way we interact with our environment, little is known about the influence that pain has on the way we construct the perceptions of our environment.”
“We hypothesized that pain-evoking stimuli would be perceived as closer to the body than otherwise identical pain-relieving stimuli; our results support this hypothesis.
“Pain-evoking stimuli are perceived as closer to the body than otherwise identical pain-relieving stimuli. This finding supports the notion that our perceptions are inferences, constructed in relation to our prior encounters, and relevant incoming information.”
The implications of this study are quite profound – pain, by its very nature, alters the way a person experiences their body, these findings suggest that pain can also shape our perception and experience of the world around us.
With our clinical hats on, and respecting the novelty and newness of this research, we might consider whether a flight of stairs looks steeper when you have chronic ankle pain, or whether a shelf looks out of reach when you have shoulder pain. Do cars appear closer after a nasty whiplash? Does a dropped object on the floor appear differently if you have had 10 years of chronic low back pain? What happens to the world on the left if your neck can only turn to the right?
We love it when scientists make clinicians think.
– Tim Cocks and David Butler