Crossing your arms to prevent pain

 
By • Published: August 3rd, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
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People cross their arms in the middle of their bodies for many reasons. Some do it when they are cold and some out of habit. People who can read body language say this gesture indicates someone who is closed off, distrustful and defensive.

But now researchers say there is a new reason someone might be crossing their arms… to relieve pain. A new study in the journal Pain found crossing your arms in the middle of your body confuses the brain and helps reduce pain sensation.

In the study, scientists from University College London used a laser to generate a pinprick of pain in participants’ hands with and without their arms crossed to measure pain. They then were given the same tests while researchers looked at the brain’s signals to measure how it responded to the pain.

Results show people reported less pain with their arms crossed, and the electrical brain responses confirmed the findings.

Researchers say crossing your arms confuses the brain by interrupting how the brain processes information coming from various areas of the body, especially the hands. Although the brain is highly efficient at mapping these connections, when you cross your arms, these maps are not in sync anymore, leading to less effective processing of pain.

Scientists say the study helps explain how the brain processes pain, but it’s unlikely the research will result in pain relief in areas other than the hands. But researchers hope it could help lead to new drugs and therapies to reduce pain.

In the meantime, the next time you run across someone with their arms crossed, there is a chance that person is being defensive, or negative, or cold. But they may just have stumbled onto the latest idea in managing pain.

That’s something new you can put in the body language lexicon.