Pain and somatic sensation are transiently normalized by illusory body ownership in a patient with spinal cord injury

Mariella Pazzaglia, Patrick Haggard, Giorgio Scivoletto, Marco Molinari, Bigna Lenggenhager

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Spinal cord injury (SCI), a profound impairment of sensorimotor functions, is often associated with pain related phenomena, including mechanical allodynia, a condition in which non-painful tactile sensation is perceived as pain. Pain and somatic sensation are undeniable markers of normal bodily awareness. However, the mechanism by which they are integrated into a coherent sense of the bodily self remains largely unclear. In this study, we investigated the effect of high-level multisensory manipulation on subjective experiences of pain, touch, and body-ownership. Methods: We administered visuo-tactile stimulation based on the rubber hand illusion. In a longitudinal study, we compared the strength of the illusion in a male with SCI, who initially had lost somatosensation in all his fingers, but a few months later reported signs of tactile allodynia restricted to the left C6-dermatome. Results: After the restoration of some somatosensation, even if it were painful, synchronous but not asynchronous visuo-tactile stimulation induced body illusion. Previously painful stimuli were temporarily perceived as less painful, and the patient further regained tactile sensations in adjacent numb areas. Conclusions: The sensations of touch and pain are mutually influenced and inextricably linked to a coherent representation of one's own body. Multisensory manipulations affecting the perception and representation of the body might thus offer a powerful opportunity to mitigate nociceptive and somatic abnormalities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)603-613
Number of pages11
JournalRestorative Neurology and Neuroscience
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 13 2016


  • allodynia
  • analgesia
  • Bodily illusions
  • pain
  • rehabilitation
  • somatosensory perception
  • spinal cord injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology


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