9 – Stimulation of the Gluteal Muscles to increase muscle bulk and reduce seating pressures

Virtual reEmbodiment (VrE) as a treatment for chronic deafferentation pain in subjects with Spinal Cord Injury

Bournemouth University, Award: £7,500, Date of Award: 18 Mar 02

This project aims to test the hypothesis that by using Virtual Reality to ‘visually restore’ impaired limbs, the intractable deafferentation (or phantom) pain associated with the neurological loss will also be removed. A three dimensional environment will be constructed in which the subject can interact using their ‘virtual limb’ moved by the subject using their remaining movement on the affected limb or shoulder. Once this virtual arm is inhabited by the subject, or elaborated into their motor self, it is expected that they will experience a reduction in pain.

The data gained from this INSPIRE funded pilot trial helped the Principal Applicant to make a successful application to the Wellcome Foundation


Further Report from the Principal Applicant

As of 15 January, 2007, have now performed experiments with 6 patients with forelimb amputations and 6 with hind limb who have phantom limb pain. In 4 of the 6 patients with arm amputations we found an effect in that they were able to feel the virtual arm was their arm and that they were moving it. They felt sensation in the virtual arm too and with that their pain reduced, from VAS scores of 7-8 to 0-4. However the other two subjects were not able to move the virtual arm as their own and had no effect on the pain. This latter may be down to both of these patients having several years each before amputation when their real arms were immobile before amputation. Unfortunately we were unable to recruit any more people than 6 with forelimb amputations and so built a virtual leg which we have just started to test on patients in Oxford.

Of these 6 we have only found an effect in 2. We are continuing this work with more patients and working on a system which can be taken home and so used chronically rather than in the lab in acute situations.

You might be interested to know that in addition to some similar work being done in Trinity College Dublin, where their funding seems to have been an issue, there is a similar project underway in Manchester, though with a slightly different approach. I am meeting both groups next week.

So our work continues albeit slowly, since none of us are full time on it, and the results for the arm at least are encouraging. The project and idea is not too far removed from the Liverpool work INSPIRE has been asked to support. What is less encouraging, though it is early days, is that 2 of the people with leg amputations were able to move their phantom easily (in the imagination) but in one this made the pain worse and in another had no effect on it.