Com­puter games re­lieve phan­tom limb pain: Study

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH -


Am­putees who played com­puter games us­ing a vir­tual, on-screen arm, ex­pe­ri­enced re­lief from the phan­tom pain that of­ten af­flicts peo­ple who have lost a limb, sci­en­tists said yes­ter­day. Four­teen am­putees who took part in a trial re­ported dra­matic pain re­duc­tion af­ter 12 ses­sions which saw them “us­ing” their miss­ing arm in vir­tual re­al­ity.

Pa­tients re­ported a near 50-per­cent re­duc­tion in pain du­ra­tion, fre­quency and in­ten­sity, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in The Lancet med­i­cal jour­nal. “The re­sults from our study sug­gest that it may be use­ful to ‘ex­er­cise’ the phan­tom limb,” said study lead au­thor Max Or­tiz Cata­lan of the Chalmers Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy in Swe­den.

Peo­ple who have lost an arm or leg of­ten re­port pain where the limb used to be-some­times years af­ter the am­pu­ta­tion and of­ten se­vere enough to af­fect their qual­ity of life and men­tal health. Phan­tom limb pain oc­curs when nerve end­ings at the am­pu­ta­tion site con­tinue send­ing pain sig­nals to the brain, mak­ing it think the limb is still there.

There are few ef­fec­tive treat­ments. One ex­ist­ing method in­volves the pa­tient use their re­main­ing arm while look­ing in a mir­ror to make it ap­pear to the brain, in the re­flec­tion, as if it is the miss­ing arm mov­ing. It does not al­ways work and can­not be used by dou­ble am­putees. The vir­tual re­al­ity ther­apy is based on a sim­i­lar premise. It makes the pa­tient “move” the lost arm to per­form cer­tain on-screen tasks, in­clud­ing steer­ing a video game car.

The pa­tients see them­selves on the screen with a vir­tual arm where their real limb used to be, and see it move as they con­trol it with their mind-ef­fec­tively bring­ing the aching phan­tom arm to life. The par­tic­i­pants had elec­trodes at­tached to their stumps to reg­is­ter the sig­nals sent to the brain. The method “al­lows the pa­tient to re­ac­ti­vate ar­eas of the brain that were used to move the arm be­fore it was am­pu­tated, the univer­sity said in a state­ment. “No other ex­ist­ing treat­ment for phan­tom limb pain gen­er­ates such a re­ac­ti­va­tion of these ar­eas of the brain,” it added.

The treat­ment would not be suit­able for pa­tients with nerve in­juries or those who can­not move their stumps, the au­thors noted.

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