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Front. Neurol. | doi: 10.3389/fneur.2018.00067

Immersive Low-cost Virtual Reality Treatment for Phantom Limb Pain: Evidence from Two Cases

  • 1Department of Neurology, University of Pennsylvania, United States
  • 2Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (MPG), Germany
  • 3Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI), United States

Up to 90% of amputees experience sensations in their phantom limb, often including strong, persistent phantom limb pain (PLP). Standard treatments do not provide relief for the majority of people who experience PLP, but virtual reality (VR) has shown promise. This study provides additional evidence that game-like training with low-cost immersive VR activities can reduce PLP in lower-limb amputees. The user of our system views a real-time rendering of two intact legs in a head-mounted display while playing a set of custom games. The movements of both virtual extremities are controlled by measurements from inertial sensors mounted on the intact and residual limbs. Two individuals with unilateral transtibial amputation underwent multiple sessions of the VR treatment over several weeks. Both participants experienced a significant reduction of pain immediately after each VR session, and their pre-session pain levels also decreased greatly over the course of the study. Although preliminary, these data support the idea that VR interventions like ours may be an effective low-cost treatment of PLP in lower-limb amputees.

Keywords: Phantom Limb, phantom limb pain, amputee, virtual reality, mirror box.

Received: 05 Dec 2017; Accepted: 29 Jan 2018.

Edited by:

Jack Tsao, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, United States

Reviewed by:

Jonathan Cole, Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, United Kingdom
Steve Pettifer, University of Manchester, United Kingdom  

Copyright: © 2018 Ambron, Miller, Kuchenbecker, Laurel and Coslett. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Elisabetta Ambron, Department of Neurology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, United States, eli.ambron@gmail.com