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 Fixing phantom limbs with virtual reality

This story is from the category Theraputic Worlds
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Date posted: 16/11/2006

Previous research on virtual limbs to remove phantom limb pain, by Dr Jonathan Cole, a clinical neurophysiologist at Poole Hospital and Senior Lecturer at the University of Southampton, showed that pain can be reduced by activity in the brain involved in imagined movement of the phantom limb.

"One patient who'd had his legs amputated below the knee said that that when he was in a swimming pool, if he imagined flipping his feet, the pain went away," Dr Cole previously stated. "Another found that if he imagined playing a round of golf, his pain went away."

Now, scientists at the University of Manchester, are developing a VR system to take that imagination one step further. The Manchester scientists have developed a virtual world in which patients have their missing limb replaced with a virtual one.

The research has focused on a small group of patients who had lost a limb between one and 40 years ago. Two were upper limb amputees and two had lost parts of their legs. They all used the virtual world between seven and 10 times over the course of three months. Each session lasted for 30 minutes.

The patients were fitted with special data gloves and sensors, and their head and arm movements were monitored. They donned HMDs and entered a world where they could see their missing limb restored.

In this virtual universe, patients can move their fingers, hands, arms, feet and legs. They also have hand eye co-ordination, and can use their virtual limb to play ball games.

The results shocked the researchers: four of the five patients reported improvements in the phantom limb pain, and much faster than the team had expected.

Project leader Dr Craig Murray said: "One patient felt that the fingers of her amputated hand were continually clenched into her palm, which was very painful for her. However, after just one session using the virtual system she began to feel movement in her fingers and the pain began to ease."

The team has presented the findings at a conference in Denmark on the use of virtual reality for rehabilitation.

See the full Story via external site: www.theregister.co.uk



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