Virtual Reality May Help People with Phantom Limb Pain

Virtual Reality May Help People with Phantom Limb Pain

By Staff

Playing virtual reality games may reduce phantom limb pain and improve quality of life, say researchers from Chalmers University of Technology in a clinical study published in The Lancet.

Dubbed “phantom motor execution,” the new treatment method consists of using muscle signals from an amputated limb to control virtual environments.  Electric signals in the muscles are picked up by electrodes on the skin.  Artificial intelligence algorithms translate the signals into movements of a virtual arm in real-time.  The research participants see themselves on a screen with the virtual arm in the place of the missing arm, and they can control it as they would control their biological arm.

“We selected the most difficult cases from several clinics,” said lead author Max Ortiz Catalan, Assistant Professor, Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.  “We wanted to focus on patients with chronic phantom limb pain who had not responded to any treatments.  Four of the patients were constantly medicated, and the others were not receiving any treatment at all because nothing they tried worked. They had been experiencing phantom limb pain for an average of 10 years.”

The participants were treated with the new method for a total of 12 sessions.  At the last session the intensity, frequency, and quality of pain had decreased by approximately 50%.  The problems pain causes in sleep and daily activities were also reduced by half.  In addition, two of the four patients who were taking pain medication were able to reduce their doses by 81% and 33%, respectively.

“The results are very encouraging, especially considering that these patients had tried up to four different treatment methods in the past with no satisfactory results,” Ortiz Catalan says.  “In our study, we also saw that the pain continuously decreased all the way through to the last treatment.  The fact that the pain reduction did not plateau suggests that further improvement could be achieved with more sessions.”

The perceived phantom limb is brought to life by a virtual representation that the patient can see and control.  This allows the patient to reactivate areas of the brain that were used to move the limb before it was amputated, which might be the reason that the phantom limb pain decreased.  No other existing treatment for phantom limb pain generates such a reactivation of these areas of the brain with certainty.  The research led by Ortiz Catalan not only creates new opportunities for clinical treatment, but it also contributes to our understanding of what happens in the brain when phantom pain occurs.

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Authored by: Staff

There are 3 comments for this article
  1. mdoino@yahoo.com at 4:37 pm

    It is interesting,and since it re-enforces the current narrative about pain, and the often oversold technological quick fix. The idea that technology is going to find and easy fix. The current narrative that there is a quick and easy fix for also many things through technology. There very well might be, but many of these so called Technological advances are oversold. There is little distinction anymore in Science and hype. Due to the Investment Opportunities, Schemes and get rich quick scams, there is little distinction between a viable Technology or a dead end. Was this posted here due to promote some Company, we don’t know. Even a a few Re prints on semi credible sites can lead to a “Story.” As long as the Story fits a profitable narrative and a money can be made it will go mainstream. “May” can mean anything, that the results are only a version of the Placebo effect, but just enough to encourage investors, or Market on TV. We don’t need facts anymore it is all about appearances. This gives the casual reader with superficial knowledge the idea that this could work, that is all they need. This means Money, and the continuing narrative that even Phantom Limb pain can be “Cured” now With an APP. We are now in the fact Free Era, it doesn’t have to work., just appear that it does long enough. Half of the U.S population does not believe in Science anymore. It sill depends on how you define Science. Marketing and public Relations with Media manipulation are big business now. Finding Cures, not so much. It just like to look like a Cure long enough to market it. Let the buyer beware. It also helps it it give the public the impression that technology is a good investment and people they know who are not cured are not as credible as some guy in an Infomercial.

    I was one of those people that used to believe the “Free flow of information,” brought by the Computer Revolution would benefit Humanity. Instead we have misdirection, obfuscation, and variable facts.

  2. Bob Schubring at 10:15 am

    Most experiments with using VR in pain management, have failed.

    The reason they fail, is that the VR is proposed as a kind of trick, with which to distract the patient from thinking about the pain.

    Distraction therapy always fails, because the patients get exhausted from both the pain and from the effort of paying attention to the distractions.

    This experiment worked, because it did the opposite.

    Instead of distracting the patient from the pain, it engaged the patient in using the damaged nerves to control an object (which happened to be a VR image, but could as easily be the controls of a robot arm that lifted things around the house and garden.)

    The horrid pins-and-needles sensation we get, when blood flow to a limb has been stopped and the nerves no longer communicate with the numb limb, are the way our brains remember losing contact with the limb. The feeling stops, when the nerves in the affected limb, awaken.

    What Dr Catalan found, is a way to restore nerve function, by giving the nerve something else to control. That’s groundbreaking.

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