Phantom Limb Pain Relieved with Augmented Reality

Researcher at Chalmers University of Technology, University of Gothenburg and Sahlgrenska University Hospital has developed a new method for the treatment of phantom limb pain (PLP) after an amputation. The method is based on a unique combination of several technologies, and has been initially tested on a patient who has suffered from severe phantom limb pain for 48 years. A case study shows a drastic reduction of pain.

People who lose an arm or a leg often experience phantom sensations, as if the missing limb were still there. Seventy per cent of amputees experience pain in the amputated limb despite that it no longer exists.

Phantom limb pain can be a serious chronic and deteriorating condition that reduces the quality of the person´s life considerably. The exact cause of phantom limb pain and other phantom sensations is yet unknown.

Phantom limb pain is currently treated with several different methods. Examples include mirror therapy, different types of medication, acupuncture and hypnosis. In many cases, however, nothing helps.

This was the case for the patient that Chalmers researcher Max Ortiz Catalan selected for a case study of the new treatment method he has envisaged as a potential solution.

The patient lost his arm 48 years ago, and had since that time suffered from phantom pain varying from moderate to unbearable. He was never entirely free of pain.

The patient's pain was drastically reduced after a period of treatment with the new method. He now has periods where he is entirely free of pain, and he is no longer awakened by intense periods of pain at night like he was previously.

The new method uses muscle signals from the patient´s arm stump to drive a system known as augmented reality. The electrical signals in the muscles are sensed by electrodes on the skin. The signals are then translated into arm movements by complex algorithms. The patient can see himself on a screen with a superimposed virtual arm, which is controlled using his own neural command in real time.

"There are several features of this system which combined might be the cause of pain relief” says Max Ortiz Catalan. “The motor areas in the brain needed for movement of the amputated arm are reactivated, and the patient obtains visual feedback that tricks the brain into believing there is an arm executing such motor commands. He experiences himself as a whole, with the amputated arm back in place."

Modern therapies that use conventional mirrors or virtual reality are based on visual feedback via the opposite arm or leg. For this reason, people who have lost both arms or both legs cannot be helped using these methods.

"Our method differs from previous treatment because the control signals are retrieved from the arm stump, and thus the affected arm is in charge" says Max Ortiz Catalan. 2The promotion of motor execution and the vivid sensation of completion provided by augmented reality may be the reason for the patient improvement, while mirror therapy and medicaments did not help previously."

A clinical study will now be conducted of the new treatment, which has been developed in a collaboration between Chalmers University of Technology, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, the University of Gothenburg and Integrum.

Three Swedish hospitals and other European clinics will cooperate during the study which will target patients with conditions resembling the one in the case study - that is, people who suffer from phantom pain and who have not responded to other currently available treatments.

The research group has also developed a system that can be used at home. Patients will be able to apply this therapy on their own, once it has been approved. An extension of the treatment is that it can be used by other patient groups that need to rehabilitate their mobility, such as stroke victims or some patients with spinal cord injuries.

The case study Treatment of phantom limb pain (PLP) based on augmented reality and gaming controlled by myoelectric pattern recognition: a case study of a chronic PLP patient was published in Frontiers in Neuroscience on 25 Feb, 2014.

Most Popular Now

Novartis and Microsoft Announce Collabor…

Novartis announced an important step in reimagining medicine by founding the Novartis AI innovation lab and by selecting Microsoft as its strategic AI and data-science partner for this effort. The...

Guerbet and IBM Watson Health Announce a…

Guerbet, a global specialist in contrast agents and solutions for diagnostic and interventional medical imaging, announced that it has signed a new agreement with IBM Watson Health to co-develop and...

Bayer Inks Deals with Eleven Startups un…

Bayer announced today that the company has signed collaboration agreements with eleven digital health startups. As part of the program, Bayer will support these startup companies aiming for longer-term collaborations...

Orion Health Delivers the First Health I…

The first Health Information Exchange (HIE) in the Middle East, Malaffi, went live at the end of July just six months after contracts were signed between the project company, Abu...

Joined Up Health and Care 2019 to Explor…

Professionals from across the country will come together to seek real answers on how to deliver closely integrated services, as the Joined Up Health and Care conference returns for its...

IMS MAXIMS Wins Healthcare Innovation Aw…

Health technology specialist IMS MAXIMS has been recognised for its innovative work in the UK and Irish healthcare market in the 2019 CV Business Innovator Awards. The company has been...

Health Tech Marketing and PR Agency Incr…

Highland Marketing, a full service agency for health techmarketing, PR and communications, has appointed Tia Dissanayake to a new account executive role,in which she will support the team withher life...

Brain-Computer Interfaces without the Me…

It sounds like science fiction: controlling electronic devices with brain waves. But researchers have developed a new type of electroencephalogram (EEG) electrode that can do just that, without the sticky...

Up-Close and Personal with Neuronal Netw…

How our brain cells, or neurons, use electrical signals to communicate and coordinate for higher brain function is one of the biggest questions in all of science. For decades, researchers...

Almirall Takes a Leap into Dermatology D…

Almirall, S.A. (ALM) has launched its first call for innovation to start-ups focused on dermatology digital health. This initiative is the first step in the creation of an accelerator programme...