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Researchers Treat Phantom Pain Using Virtual Arm

Feb 26, 2014 09:42 AM EST
Virtual arm
Virtual arm can reduce phantom pain.
(Photo : Chalmers University of Technology)

Swedish researchers have developed a new virtual reality system that can help amputees cope with phantom pain. 

Amputee Ture Johanson said his phantom pain reduced after he started using the new system, BBC reported. He lost his right arm in a car accident 48 years ago and was suffering from moderate to severe pain.

He is now 73 years old and uses the latest augmented reality system developed by researchers at Chalmers University of Technology.

Phantom limb pain or phantom sensation is a condition where people with amputations experience sensations or even pain in missing limbs. Medication, acupuncture, and hypnotherapy are used to treat this condition.

In the latest system, electrodes placed on patients' arm stump detect signals from muscles, according to a news release. These signals are then used by a computer program to simulate a virtual arm that the user can move. The patient in the virtual therapy feels like he/she has control over his 'lost' arm, helping in faster recovery from pain.

"He can see himself as in a mirror, with the difference that we are adding a virtual arm over his stump so he can see himself entirely again. He is able to control the motion of that virtual arm as he used to control his missing arm." Max Ortiz-Catalan, a graduate student in the division of biomedical engineering at Sweden's Chalmers University of Technology, told HealthDay.

Johanson can also use the virtual arm to play video games, which might help him use parts of brain that control the limb movements, according to HealthDay.

Researchers will be conducting clinical trials in the next phase of the study. The system developed by the researchers can be used at home.

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