Illusory touch temporarily improves sensation in areas of chronic numbness: A brief communication

Benedict Wand, University of Notre Dame Australia
Samantha Eve Stephens
Effie Ida Marquita Mangharam
Pamela J. George
Max Bulsara, University of Notre Dame Australia
Neil E. O'Connell
G Lorimer Moseley


Background. Creating the visual illusion of touch can improve tactile perception in healthy subjects. Objective. We were interested in seeing if creating the illusion of touch in an insensate area could improve sensation in that area. Methods. Fourteen people with chronic numbness participated in a randomized crossover experiment. The 4 conditions were the following: (a) stimulation over the unaffected limb with mirror visual feedback (experimental condition), (b) stimulation over the affected limb with mirror visual feedback, (c) stimulation over the unaffected limb without mirror visual feedback, and (d) stimulation over the affected limb without mirror visual feedback. Participants were assessed before and after each condition using the Ten-Test and mechanical detection thresholds. Data were analyzed using linear mixed models. Result. Only the experimental condition produced a change in the Ten-Test (mean difference = −1.1; 95% confidence interval = −1.8 to −0.4; P = .003), corresponding to a 24% improvement in sensation. No differences were observed for any condition in mechanical detection thresholds. Conclusion. Creating the illusion of touch may improve sensory function in areas of chronic numbness. This preliminary finding adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the use of techniques that directly target cortical function in people with peripheral nerve injury.


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