Forget the sixth sense. Meet the 10 neglected senses that could help the way we treat pain

Have you ever spent time with someone who can't stop itching?

I bet your instinct wasn't to give them a hug. In fact, you probably wanted to get as far away as possible. You may have even started to feel itchy yourself.

According to leading British pain psychologist Chris Eccleston this is because itch is a sense. We biologically sense there is something wrong with the itchy person and feel repelled.

We all know about the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Professor Eccleston argues there are an extra 10 senses that have been neglected by health professionals.

These are balance, motion, pressure, pain, fatigue, breathing, temperature, appetite and expulsion (vomiting, defecating, etc) as well as itch.

The director of the Centre for Pain Research at the University of Bath said the neglected senses were as significant in health treatment as the traditional five and could help doctors understand what their patients are feeling.

"I'm giving people a frame by which to understand why [their patients] might feel the way they feel," Professor Eccleston said.

Going back to our chronic itcher, he will probably experience shame at his inability to stop if people are running away from him.

But if a doctor can explain that they are reacting to him negatively because of their itch sense, he can work on not internalising their response.

"Itch is the only sensation which is contagious - if I start to itch, you start to itch," Professor Eccleston explained.

"And the reason for that is because itch is all about social grooming. It's a message to people that there is a potential tick in your environment and you need to do something."

Professor Eccleston said that if we understand our reaction, we can alter our behaviour accordingly.

"If you can understand why people behave the way they do, then it liberates people from judgmental attitudes," he said.

Pain is also a sense and is warning us of a potential threat, Professor Eccleston said.

For people with chronic pain, it's as though that alarm is constantly going off.

"It's helping people to understand pain is very real, but it's not harming you. It's separating the signal from the harm," Professor Eccleston said.

"Understanding you can't escape the pain can be therapeutic for some people."

Professor Eccleston interviewed 20 people living at the extreme of each of the 10 sensations for his book Embodied: The Psychology of Physical Sensation.

He hopes his work will lead to improved and targeted clinical treatment.

Professor Eccleston presented it at the Australian and New Zealand College of Anesthetists' annual conference in Brisbane on Saturday.

The journalist attended the conference as a guest of ANZCA.

The story Forget the sixth sense. Meet the 10 neglected senses that could help the way we treat pain first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop