Cheaper than a massage, and fewer side effects than popping pills: A new study reports that crossing your arms can significantly relieve pain.
Twenty brave participants (12 of them women) allowed scientists to inflict pain via pulses of radiant heat from an infrared laser. The laser was aimed at the sensitive radial nerve of the forearm. During some bursts of pain, participants had their arms crossed in front of them. In those trials, participants reported significantly reduced sensations of pain. Researchers also were monitoring brain activity with an EEG. During arms-crossed trials, the participants’ brains showed smaller spikes of activity suggesting pain processing.
The research team, led by neuroscientist Giandomenico Iannetti from University College London, UK, speculates that crossing the arms confuses the brain. The researchers write, “Crossing the hands over the body midline impairs [the brain’s] ability to localize tactile stimuli.” More specifically, information about the right side of the body appears to be coming in through the nervous system from the left side of the body, and vice/versa. The fact that participants could see their own hands added to the brain’s confusion – because it looked like the right hand was the left hand, and vice/versa.
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