Saturday, October 20, 2007

In a virtual world we can be pain free.

The American Pain Foundation's Pain Monitor October 2007 has an interesting article about virtual reality technology and its use in pain management. I've mentioned in previous posts about the research being carried out by the Interfaces Group in Manchester in the UK. The Utube video below shows this research in relation to phantom limb pain.
The research in Manchester is on going. As you can see by the video this research involves a device placed on the head and over the eyes. This setup produces a three dimensional experience for the participant. Research using this technology is aimed at helping both pain sufferers and stroke patients.

At Hadassah University Hospital in Israeli, Hadasit has begun a Phase II Study of the Virtual Reality (VR) system for the treatment of chronic pain and stroke rehabilitation. JERUSALEM BUSINESS WIRE reported that "the VR system employs a patent pending technology designed to utilize brain plasticity and enhance learning processes in patients who are unable to use their arms, hands or shoulders due to stroke or chronic pain." In a similar way to the Manchester trials patients are able to see themselves in real time doing pain free movements in a simulated a virtual environment. However this research does not involve the patient wearing equipment and the image is viewed on a plasma screen. As I understand it, this is two dimensional virtual reality and works just as well as mirror therapy with the advantage of not being confined to a single side. In other words believe you can use this for central or whole body problems which have been an issue with mirror therapy.

Utilizing what is known about the new science of pain management involving the concept of plasticity of the brain and its ability to be retrained, these virtual reality
experiences activate mirror neurons (monkey see, monkey do) and induce a beneficial effect on the brain. Shimon Shiri, a rehabilitation psychologist at Hadassah and one of the inventor of this technology, in the CNN article linked to the American Foundation Newsletter explains how this reduces pain and increases function. "By viewing the movement of the arm without pain, the brain undergoes a corrective learning process."

You'll find the link to the American Pain Foundation's Monitor under "crps/rsd related articles" to the left of this blog. The newsletter has many excellent articles. I encourage you to read
"Managing pain: some things really do help" and "Chronic pain hits women harder" both of which refer to Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.

There's also a link to "Virtual reality as a rehabilitative technology for phantom limb experience".

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