The loss of an extremity (leg/arm) can often lead to the development of phantom limb pain which for the individual can feel as if the extremity is still attached. The pain often becomes a chronic condition with negative effects on an individual’s quality of life.
A recent study published in The Lancet, looked at people with chronic phantom limb pain who had not responded to any treatments and participated in a virtual stimulation program. The study participants had been experiencing phantom limb pain for an “average of 10 years”.
Treatment consisted of attaching electrodes on the skin to pick up electrical signals from the remaining limb muscles. Utilizing an “augmented and virtual environment,” the person could see a virtual arm move on the screen representing their lost arm. Utilizing the technology, the person was able to move the virtual arm as if it was their actual extremity.
The treatment consisted of 12 sessions with a significant reduction in reported pain (50%). This report of decreased pain also carried over into sleep and activities of daily living. Two of the study participants who used analgesics were able to reduce their doses by “81% and 33%.”
Utilizing a virtual representation allows the person to both see, move and control their extremity facilitating “reactivation of areas of the brain that were used to move the arm before it was amputated.”
The author of the study indicated that “no other existing treatment for phantom limb pain generates such a reactivation of these areas of the brain with certainty.”