Virtual Reality (VR) technology can relieve the sensation of phantom limb pain by tricking the brain into thinking that it is still in control of a missing limb, researchers have found. A phantom limb is a sensation that an amputated or missing limb is still attached.
Approximately 60 to 80 percent of individuals with an amputation experience phantom sensations in their amputated limb and the majority of the sensations are painful. Even though science has yet to come up with an unambiguous explanation, the most discussed theory concerns the sudden lack of input from the severed neural cords.
"The tactile representation of different body parts are arranged in the brain in a sort of map," said Bo Geng from Aalborg University in Denmark in a statement. "If the brain no longer receives feedback from an area, it tries to reprogramme its signal reception map. That is the most common conception of how phantom limb pain occurs," she added.
Tests showed that phantom limb pain could be relieved by creating a visual illusion that the body is symmetrical by placing a mirror at an angle in front of the chest. If you then pretend to do the same movements simultaneously with both hands, the brain in many cases can be convinced that it is in contact with an amputated hand. By using VR, it is possible to create an experience of being present in a three-dimensional world where you can move around freely, grab things and interact with them.
"The mirror therapy has some limitations because you have to physically sit down in front of a mirror, do the same movement in a confined space with both hands at the same time and keep your eyes on the mirror. The illusion can easily be broken," Bo Geng said. "With Virtual Reality, there is a much better chance of creating a convincing alternative reality," she noted.