Positive thinking can lower the body's sensitivity to pain, research has shown.

A five-minute session of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) reduced the physical pain symptoms of volunteers who had burning heat applied to their arms by almost 40 per cent.

The findings suggest CBT could be a useful treatment for people suffering from chronic back problems or conditions such as fibromyalgia, which causes widespread pain.

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A total of 34 men and women aged 21 to 38 took part in the "mind over body" study, published in the journal, Pain. In a series of hour-long sessions, a thermal probe was used to apply heat to their forearms and evoke pain. Half were trained to control negative thoughts related to the pain, the other half was given training unrelated to the pain stimuli.

The "pain-trained" group achieved a 38 per cent ­reduction in secondary hyperalgesia (enhanced pain sensitivity beyond the site of an injury) while the control group reported an increase of 8 per cent.