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
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
“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 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