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After amputation: Playing in a virtual world helps against phantom pain

After amputation: Playing in a virtual world helps against phantom pain


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Computer games: Gambling in virtual worlds can relieve phantom pain
Many people who have had limbs amputated experience so-called phantom pain in the part of their body that is no longer available. Scientists have now found that these can be alleviated with the help of games in virtual worlds.

The duration, frequency and intensity of the pain decreased
A study by Swedish scientists has shown that people with amputated limbs can alleviate their phantom pain with the help of games in virtual worlds.

In the study, the results of which were published in the British journal "The Lancet", the 14 subjects, each lacking an arm, were supposed to use their supposedly missing body part on the computer. Patients later reported that phantom pain lost duration, frequency, and intensity.

Motor brain areas are activated
“The motor areas in the brain that are required for the movement of the amputated arm are reactivated, and the patient receives a visual feedback that makes the brain believe that there is an arm that carries out such motor commands. He experiences himself as a whole, with the amputated arm back in place, ”explained the lead author of the study, Max Ortiz-Catalan from Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, according to the“ BBC ”.

No uniform therapy approach
To date, there is no uniform therapeutic approach for the treatment of phantom pain. Among other things, psychosomatic therapies or medication are used.

Researchers at the Medical University of Vienna (MedUni) achieved good results a few years ago with mirror therapy for phantom pain of leg amputees.

However, this method, which uses the power of illusion, does not help everyone, especially not double amputees.

Similar approach to mirror therapy
The Swedish scientists took a similar approach in their study. To do this, they attached sensors to the arm stump of the study participants who had been living with an amputated arm for two to 36 years in order to measure the remaining muscle activity.

Using this information, a computer program created a virtual arm on the screen. Then the subjects were asked in sessions to train their virtual arm, including a car racing game.

It was shown that the intensity, the quality and the frequency of the phantom pain almost halved on average. Subjects also reported that their sleep was interrupted less frequently, that they were able to lower the dose of their painkillers, or that their activities were less interrupted by pain.

The new method has been shown to be “effective in patients with phantom pain, for whom no other therapies have been effective,” says the website of the Swedish university. A further development is already being worked on. (ad)

Author and source information


Video: Relieving Phantom Limb Pain Using Virtual Reality (June 2022).