Can Virtual Reality and Mirror Visual Feedback Help Effectively Treat Chronic Pain?

Can Virtual Reality and Mirror Visual Feedback Help Effectively Treat Chronic Pain?

We are starting to see more and more information coming about the impact of using virtual reality (VR) to address chronic pain.

That latest is from a company called Karuna Labs which is touting a small study that it says show evidence that visual feedback in VR can influence the function of limbs affected by chronic pain.

Patients with chronic shoulder pain have the potential to experience improved range of motion using mirroring techniques in a Virtual Reality (VR) environment, according to a new study. The findings come from Karuna Labs, creator of personalized functional restoration and chronic pain management programs using VR technology to retrain the brain.

Karuna Labs performed the study to measure the effects on patients using its Virtual Embodiment TherapyTM technology, which applies graded Motor Imagery, corrective exercises from physical therapy which focus on performing activities of daily living and real-time position tracking.

“The first thing in any session that a patient does or sees is related to educating them on how chronic pain works. We heard from clinicians all across the board that they see the best outcomes when patients actually know how pain works in their brains and their bodies. They are able to consciously digest the information and move in the right direction,” according to Karuna COO Jon Weinberg.

The study evaluated 15 patients with chronic shoulder pain and measured range of motion on three planes for each arm: shoulder flexion (arms straight above the head), shoulder scaption (arms out to the sides), and shoulder abduction (arms straight out and away from the body).

“These study results using our proprietary VR technology have immense implications for rehabilitation in patients suffering from chronic pain,” said Lincoln Nguyen, Karuna CEO.

“Most patients today are interested in reducing their need for pharmaceuticals, and VR appears to provide a pleasant, low-risk, easily tolerated, on-demand option for pain relief,” Dr. Beth Darnall, a pain management specialist at Stanford Health Care, told Healthline.

The study provides evidence that Mirror Visual Feedback (MVF), originally developed to help with neuropathic pain, in VR can influence the function of a non-affected limb if a patient perceives that function as occurring in a painful limb.

The Company also believes these results may lead to greater knowledge of the mechanisms by which MVF can relieve chronic pain in additional areas.

Have you tried Virtual Reality?

Are you willing to?

Let us know in the comments section.

Subscribe to our blog via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Authored by: Staff

newest oldest
Notify of

I have a good friend with horrible chronic pain issues; her doc told her recently that she (the doc) is “holding her hostage*” by only prescribing a much-reduced dosage of pain meds if she (the patient) agrees to try a bunch of experimental procedures & treatments, plus some that have been around for years but have very, very low rates of doing anything positive for the patient. Wonder if my friend will be required to try the VR.
How is what that doc is doing NOT extortion?!? That doc should be arrested!

*the doc used that exact phrase.

Wendy Homer

Last December my pain doctor put me in touch with a start up virtual reality company (Karuna) which claimed success treating CRPS. I had already learned about Graded Motor Imagery(GMI). When I went online and looked up Karuna I was encouraged in reading about their VR device. It incorporates Graded Motor Imagery techniques and is based upon the scientific understanding of neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change continuously throughout a person’s life). In lay person’s language, using GMI, and particularly VR, could trick your brain into responding differently to pain signals resulting from the malfunction of the peripheral and central nervous systems that researchers believe causes CRPS. The approach made sense to me.
While I was skeptical about Karuna’s confidence in the success of their device based upon a very small sample of test subjects, I was still very hopeful and excited about the opportunity to try out the device. Over many months I communicated with the developer of the the VR device via email and phone conversations. I was passed along to several company representatives, each leading me to believe that I was getting one step closer to being able to try out their device. Each time I had to make several attempts before I received a response from the Karuna representatives. After five months I finally got to the stage where I was told that their staff psychologist would contact me to arrange for me to come to their office in the Mission Bay district of San Francisco for an evaluation to determine if I would be a good candidate to use their equipment.
Bottom line: I never heard from the staff psychologist or any other representative of Karuna although I tried many times to contact that person. I can only guess at why Karuna dropped the ball. My suspicion is that the company is not nearly as far along in the development of their device as they present.

Ida L Wolk

Im so happy to see Dr Heck join our discussion. Welcome Dr. I’m just glad to see any MD stop by. I agree w you. This may work for localized pain, but people w chronic through and through pain, I’m not so sure. I, like he others here today do best on opioids. Now, I would be willing to test drive this device and throughy learn how to use it properly and really give it a run for the $$. Anything is worth trying. I have to say, 4 yrs ago my pain doc tapered me off 15 mg Methadone and 15 mg Percocet each taken 4+ times a day. I did for 13 yrs till it started to affect my breathing. Then they DXd me w sleep apnea. Anyway doc said she was taking me off due to breathing issues and she wanted me to do their pain program again. Program was pretty useless without my meds. I couldn’t do the exercises then the LCSW doing the 2nd part of program basically wanted us all to meditate to quell our pain w no meds on board or in my case I was put back on 5 mg Methadone cause couldn’t take the pain but dose to low to do damned thing. I sat painfully through that 8 week program, 3 hrs per session 1 x week. I would come home in excruciating pain put me outta my misery pain! Could I get anything to help…hell no, go meditate. KAISER, SANTA ROSA, CA INHUMANE, HATEFUL, CRUEL TREATMENT!! Their program has not changed in 13 yrs!! It’s ANTIQUATED!!! all I’ve been offered is a TENS unit. It exacerbates the pain.. after all this, just prior to starting this program I had re injured my back, seriously bad pain!! But no meds! I just can’t understand why?? Finally, after these 4 yrs, just as my doc is about to go on vacation, she says ,” oh, when i get back, I’ll start you back on your meds”!?!? Im estatic I’ll get them back but why not B4 she left??? Vaca = 3 weeks. This injury was to L4-5 SCIATIC/ PIRAFORMIS I can barely walk, barely hold my urine etc. What kind of sadistic MD keeps their pt suffering while they go off on vacation?! 1 week to go, Injury x 4 months pain and counting.

Linda Neilsen

I’m to start using VR this coming week to deal with pain caused by scoliosis which was discovered in my 40’s. I’m now 72 am trying to get off a fentanyl pump imbedded in my body.

Thomas Kidd

This is about as foolish as I have heard.

Cindy too

I dont’ understand how a shoulder is a limb.


Who are these people that want to go off their meds? They’re the ones who are stuck on things like antidepressants and other non-specific so-called pain meds that aren’t meant to treat pain. Nobody wants their meds taken away. Nobody wants to be a lab rat, Guinea pig or test case. We want the meds that work. Also no mention of the side effects of VR like migraines, seizures, etc? Poor reporting.


Oh my Lord. Maybe we should go back to giving patients lobotomies? They did you know. For mental illness and chronic pain. I’m sorry to sound so negative but I’m so sick of stuff like this. Opioids work for millions of people. If taken responsibly and as directed, they can give back quality of life. Drs know this. Patients know this. Most people knew this until the anti-opioid zealots got in the ear of the government and the general public. It seems like this country has lost all common sense. I pray everyday for it to return. I also pray for Drs to practise what they know works and for patients to get their meds back.
God Bless Us All💝🙏


A sample size of only 15 patients is too small to provide any information other than “this might be beneficial, but more research studies are needed.” Show me clinical trials with a large sample size and high rate of effectiveness, with no adverse events, and maybe then I’d consider it… if Medicare covers it. If it’s not covered by Medicare, it will be financially out of reach for me, as well as many other CPPs.

Unlike some of the other alternatives CPPs have been offered (e.g., epidural injections), trying this VR therapy is low risk. However, I am uncomfortable with CPPs being the guinea pigs for every new “miracle” therapy. Chronic pain patients are suffering now more than we ever did before the #@&%$ CDC Guidelines, and that level of suffering makes CPPs vulnerable. Vulnerable to being taken advantage of, misled, and potentially harmed by people promoting unproven therapies. My father always used to say “never buy the first model year of a car; wait a few years until the bugs get worked out” and I think this applies here.

Sharon C

Really? I have CRPS in my right arm and right hand. You are saying that I need to have a virtual reality experience, and my pain from damaged nerves in my arm will vanish. And I can toss my opioids, that currently dial back my pain by 90%, straight into the garbage. That was easy! Bring it on! Oh wait! What about the neuropathy in my right foot? Can I pretend that pain away too?

Did you draw at least some of your conclusions based on results from a study of only fifteen people? Maybe if you added a large dose of hopeium, in addition to
imagination, those who are in pain might feel better.

Or, I could take a pain reliving narcotic, those mean, nasty, hated pills that make it possible for me to have as much quality of life as a person who lives pain free. But what about addiction issues and subsequent overdosing? In the last two weeks, there were four days in a row when I had much lower levels of pain. I took zero pills for pain during that time. As for overdosing, I follow my doctor’s orders. Period.

Telling members of the chronic pain community that they should imagine their pain into nonexistence does nothing to help us. But, it does hurt us by providing yet another roadblock on the path to real pain relief, opioids.

Wendy Paley

I have not had the opportunity to try virtual reality for my chronic neuropathic pain. I would be more than willing to give it a try. To be able to go off pharmaceutical meds that only take the edge off my pain would be a wonderful miracle.

What is the cost? Is the study done by the company selling it?
Send me one for a free trial.
The drugs doctors are saying there is a better alternative when you cannot tolerate NSAIDS …turns out they can cause long term harm. New article on steroids injections creating issues especially for people with osteoarthritis.

Patricia Bradley

I wish people would keep in mind the cost of these treatments along with the availability.
The elderly rural patients simply can not afford it or get to it .
So we suffer.

Jessamyn Butler

As my back continues to “crack” as I move, I am laughing heartily at the thought of this being a real “thing.”


I’ve never tried it but am willing to try anything that doesn’t make my condition worse! ❤🌹💙

25 years ago I saw a presentation on the success being achieved using mirrored PT for phantom limb pain. This would appear to be the next step up from that. I don’t believe it’s going to be as overwhelmingly successful for as many types of pain it’s being predicted to be nor will as many people be willing to take the time involved to learn how to utilize it properly. That’s the reality of the difference between taking medication which is easy to do which patients know works and using a device which takes time out of your day and MAY be viewed as tedious. However, for various LOCALIZED painful conditions, I can see this being VERY useful. It’s the more widespread conditions so many experience I’d be skeptical on its usefulness or acceptance. As with any innovation, time will tell.