Technology to ease phantom limb pain

Scientists use virtual reality for therapy

June 04, 2017 10:22 pm | Updated 10:23 pm IST - London

Scientists have developed a virtual reality (VR) technology that can relieve the sensation of phantom limb pain by tricking the brain into thinking that it is still in control of a missing limb.

“The tactile representation of different body parts are arranged in the brain in a sort of map,” said Bo Geng, from the Aalborg University in Denmark.

“If the brain no longer receives feedback from an area, it tries to reprogramme its signal reception map. That is the most common conception of how phantom limb pain occurs,” Ms. Geng said. Tests have shown that phantom limb pain can be relieved if the brain is tricked into thinking that the amputated limb is still attached to the body.

By placing a mirror at an angle in front of the chest you can create the visual illusion that the body is symmetrical.

The method has proven effective in a number of amputees and is the foundation for the new VR technology.

By using VR it is possible to create an experience of being present in a three dimensional world where you can move around freely, grab things and interact with them, researchers said.

“With virtual reality there is a much better chance of creating a convincing alternative reality,” Ms. Geng said.

In the new method the patients have to put on VR goggles and a glove. At the same time, small electrodes are placed on the residual limb. By stimulating the stump with tiny electrical impulses, researchers try to recreate the sensation of the phantom hand.

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