Our ability to accurately map out our body is an essential feature of health. The brain needs accurate information about the body to be able to control the body. In my clinical practice, people reporting distorted body images are very common. Helping people be safe enough and skilled enough to feel the slow background tone of the body is often the first thing I work on in helping people change their pain experience.
Feet are often hard to feel and the belly is frequently absent. Simple things like the weight, outline, skin and inside feel of the body are surprisingly hard to orient to.
The article by Nishigami 2015 explores the above model. He highlights research that states ‘Altered perceived body image is associated with chronic pain.’ and ‘Many studies have shown that somatosensory cortex reorganization might contribute to pain…… Poor sensory function and distorted image are likely to contribute to discrepancies between sensory and motor performance. Therefore, sensorimotor incongruence may be associated with distorted perceived image of the low back in chronic low back pain patients.’
(Nishigami discusses a study he performed on 42 people with chronic low back pain. He find thats the 57% of the patients had expanded or shrunken perceived body image. Though it should be noted that in his study, ‘differences in perceived body image were not associated with clinical symptoms’.)
Nishigami T (2015) Relationship between tactile acuity, clinical symptoms and perceived body image in patients with chronic low back pain. Body In Mind http://www.bodyinmind.org/tactile-acuity-clinical-symptoms-body-image-clbp/ accessed 2015-04-18