Human brain can treat prosthetic body parts as a substitute for a non-working part. PLOS ONE by Mariella Pazzaglia and colleagues from Sapienza University and IRCCS Fondazione Santa Lucia of Rome in Italy, supported by the International Foundation for Research in Paraplegie.
The researchers found that wheelchair-bound study participants with spinal cord injuries perceived their body's edges as being plastic and flexible to include the wheelchair, independent of time since their injury or experience with using a wheelchair. Patients with lower spinal cord injuries who retained upper body movement showed a stronger association of the wheelchair with their body than those who had spinal cord impairments in the entire body.
According to the authors, this suggests that rather than being thought of only as an extension of the immobile limbs, the wheelchairs had become tangible, functional substitutes for the affected body part. As Pazzaglia explains, "The corporeal awareness of the tool emerges not merely as an extension of the body but as a substitute for, and part of, the functional self."