Phantom Limb Pain May Be Eased By Playing Virtual Reality

Virtual reality may no longer be just a game.  It can possibly be something used for therapy or  treatment.  A recent study shows the computer game may be able to help people with their pain due to phantom limb.

Phantom Limb Is Often Experienced By Amputees

The brain does not adapt to the loss of limb, and neurons surrounding the area of the brain relating to that limb can trigger pain sensations.  It is often experienced as soon as patients had their arm or leg removed.  90 to 98 percent of amputees suffer from phantom limb. 

For this recent study, fourteen amputees who had phantom limb, and who did not benefit from other treatments, were asked to participate in 'phantom motor execution'.  The researchers placed sensors on the patients' stumps to detect muscular activity for the missing limb.  A computer then decodes the signal and uses it to create an active virtual limb on a computer screen which represents the missing limb.  This therapy had 12 sessions.

Almost Half Of The Patients Benefitted From The Therapy

Initially, 12 out of the 14 patients reported feeling constant pain.  Six months after the treatment, only six patients reported to still experience pains.  Max Ortiz Catalan, lead author of the study said: "The results from our study suggest that it may be useful to 'exercise' the phantom limb. Our treatment offers an engaging way to do this while also providing a non-invasive and non-pharmacological treatment which was found to reduce chronic pain with no observed side effects. Our findings now need to be confirmed in a large randomised clinical trial."

The authors of this study noted that the treatment is not suitable for patients who have nerve injuries or those who are unable to move their stumps.  More studies are required to prove the benefits of virtual reality to phantom limb pain.

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