Virtual integration environment helps ease phantom limb pain

Upper limb amputees were able to reduce phantom limb pain over time by visualizing and mimicking movements of a virtual arm, according to recent study results.

Researchers enrolled unilateral trans-radial and trans-humeral amputees who had experienced phantom limb pain at least three times a week. Using a virtual integration environment (VIE), participants directed their phantom limb to follow a virtual arm’s preprogrammed movements. Researchers analyzed the self-reported intensity of phantom limb pain over time, and the distinction, consistency and accuracy of surface electromyography (sEMG) patterns across single and multiple sessions.

Researchers found that sEMG waveform consistently showed distinct movements of phantom limb among participants and across sessions. According to study results, the Visual Analog Scale showed the intensity of phantom limb pain decreased as the number of VIE sessions increased. Researchers also found that, over time, participants experienced less pain in their phantom limb and that they were easily able to move their phantom limb at will during VIE sessions.

“The VIE enables investigators to test the acquired sEMG signal quality using the virtual arm before development of the actual mechanical arm systems for advanced function,” the researchers concluded. “The initial results have proved promising and may offer a new treatment approach for rehabilitation with an advanced prosthesis and also management of [phantom limb pain] in patients.”

For more information:

Alphonso AL. Annual Review of Cybertherapy and Telemedicine 2012.2012;181:305-309.

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