A stroke survivor who experiences chronic pain may begin to perceive that their stroke-affected hand is a different size, raising the risk of accidents, a new study finds. The results may give rehabilitation specialists a new target for improving function, investigators say.

In a survey of more than 500 stroke survivors, investigators found that those who reported chronic pain were almost three times as likely to perceive that the size of their affected hands was altered. The effect was even more pronounced in those whose pain encompassed their hand.

The study is unprecedented and the results may point to a new characteristic of chronic pain in stroke, wrote study lead Leeanne M. Carey, PhD, of the University of Melbourne in Australia. It also raises the possibility that body perception disturbance could be a rehabilitation target, helping clinicians to improve function and pain-related outcomes for stroke survivors, she and her colleagues said.

This finding “contributes to the growing understanding of chronic pain in stroke and provides clinicians with insights into the relationship that exists in individuals with stroke between pain and body perception,” the authors wrote.

“Accurate perception of hand size is integral to effective use of the hand … most notably when holding and manipulating objects,” they noted.

Treatments that focus on body perception following stroke “may improve the function and pain-related outcomes of a group that is currently highly impacted by pain,” they concluded.

The study, which includes more explanation of altered body perception following stroke, was published in the journal Brain Sciences.

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