Virtual arm reduces phantom limb pain
Researchers in Sweden have developed a virtual arm, which they say may help treat amputees with phantom limb pain—painful sensations associated with the missing limb.
Research has shown that the majority of amputees experience some sensation that their limb is still there. When the sensation is painful, it is referred to as phantom limb pain and can feel like an insatiable itch or a stabbing pain.
The virtual arm method works by hooking up what remains of a person’s amputated limb to a computer. Electronic signals are sent from the muscles to the computer and the person is able to see and move a virtual arm on the screen in real time.
Amputees who have tested the virtual arm have reported a decrease in pain. Others reported that using the virtual arm has helped with controlled movements even when not hooked up to the computer. While the exact cause for phantom limb pain remains unknown, researchers believe it has something to do with how nerves in the severed limb communicate with the brain. Researchers behind this study said that the virtual arm may be an effective therapy because it reactivates the motor areas in the brain that are needed for movement of the amputated limb. They believe the method may also prove beneficial for people who have spinal cord injuries or have had a stroke.