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VR Cures Amputees' Phantom Limb Pain 84

An anonymous reader writes, "Scientists have developed a virtual world like Second Life where real-life amputees have their limbs restored. The experience can cure patients of the perception of pain in their missing limbs. From the article: 'The machine is designed to combat phantom limb pain (PLP) — a sensation of pain experienced by an amputee that appears to originate in the missing limb. Intriguingly, researchers have discovered that if a person's brain can be tricked into believing they can see and move a "phantom limb," this motion reduces the perception of pain in PLP.' The graphics used by the computer look very crude, almost comically so, but apparently the system works."
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VR Cures Amputees' Phantom Limb Pain

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  • by dada21 ( 163177 ) * <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @03:12PM (#16841814) Homepage Journal
    ...what kind of VR would they use for John Bobbitt, and would the pro-family values conservatives approve of that form of medical "service?"
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The guy got his dick back.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Fozzyuw ( 950608 )
      ...what kind of VR would they use for John Bobbitt

      The only thing that popped into my mind is... why is Bobbitt the first thing on your mind, to associate it with this article?

    • Something graphic. Maybe even with a GUI. But, will he be able to "wiggle it"? Nevertheless, it would still be software, not hardware. And, the virus, even the Trojan, would be virtual. Now the worms... those might scare him.

      But, if he hooks up to the Internets, he might be palmed... ummm pawned...

      (Captcha: backfill)
  • visualization (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @03:14PM (#16841852) Homepage Journal
    "...the graphics used by the computer look very crude, almost comically so, but apparently the system works."

    Could this also be accomplished by hypnosis and visualization? If useful, that would reduce the cost -- namely the expensive electronics.
    • Really. I'm sure hypnosis could fix the problem and be much cheaper. Hell, the BanishPain file at Warp My Mind [warpmymind.com] (NOT WORK SAFE) should do the trick. Though a live hypnotist could do the job more effectively. It's hard to go into trance against a file unless you're very susceptible.

      Hypnosis is really powerful, and can also be very fun... Just take a look at the "Success Stories" on the forum at that site.
    • Hypnosis? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by msimm ( 580077 )
      Have you ever been hypnotized? I have. 1) The number of people likely to be responsive to hypnotic suggestion is relatively small 2) the number of people susceptible to a typical induced hypnotic state is relatively small.

      Hypnosis seemed fascinating to me when I was young but when I had the opportunity to experience it (or rather, not) I found out that it isn't uncommon for people to not automagically achieve a hypnotic state.

      Not that I'm trying to dismiss your idea altogether, just had an interesting e
      • by lawpoop ( 604919 )
        I have been hypnotized, I guess -- I saw a hypnotherapist and he talked me through a hypnotisation session. For me, it was a lot like drifting into a nap and having a really intense day-dream. I also practice meditation and visualization, and have tried various methods and techniques. Up until this post, I kind of thought that they were mostly identical, except visualization specifically engaged your visual imagination. Can you tell me what you see as the difference between all of these states?

        I'm not s
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by msimm ( 580077 )
          I've been left with the distinct impression that hypnosis is the western answer to guided meditation and really is more a pseudo-science with a Barnum & Bailey air of mystery.

          Honestly I don't see much difference myself, aside from the fact that western hypnosis seems to be a hodge-podge of tradition practices dressed up to be more palatable to modern science. Maybe its easier on the western constitution to say hypnotherapist then monk. It certainly sounds less new-agey, but I suspect there's more to m
    • by Azarael ( 896715 )
      The same results have been acheived using the magic of.. a mirror.
      Amputee is sat down at a table with a mirror in front of them so they can see a reflection of their existing arm. By seeing the reflection of the other arm, they can 'trick' their brains into thinking that a phantom limb twisted in an uncomforable position has moved.
      Obviously won't work if they have lost both of a pair of limbs though.
      • This (mirror approach) is explained in V. S. Ramachandran's book "Phantoms in the Brain".
        I highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever enjoyed books by Oliver Sachs or is just generally curious about the brain.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by kfg ( 145172 )
      Could this also be accomplished by hypnosis and visualization?

      They tried that first. Works sort of, for some people. About as well as it does for sea sickness, another area where unpleasant feelings are caused by a discontinuity in what the brain "knows" and what it "sees" ( your ear "sees" you are in motion, your eyes see you are not. This does not compute and smoke pours out of your ears; and your dinner out of your stomach).

      The problem is one of creating a harmonic whole of the input of all the senses. Y
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by cp.tar ( 871488 )

        They tried that first. Works sort of, for some people. About as well as it does for sea sickness, another area where unpleasant feelings are caused by a discontinuity in what the brain "knows" and what it "sees" ( your ear "sees" you are in motion, your eyes see you are not. This does not compute and smoke pours out of your ears; and your dinner out of your stomach).

        That is supposed to be a poison-rejecting mechanism, actually - evidently, some poisons make you feel as if you were moving, although you're n

        • by kfg ( 145172 )
          That is supposed to be a poison-rejecting mechanism. . .

          And pain is an injury-rejecting mechanism.

          KFG
    • VR? Blah

      Don't they know the pain will go away if they spit [slashdot.org] on it.

    • Re:visualization (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Puff of Logic ( 895805 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @04:36PM (#16843302)
      Actually, it can be done with a cardboard box and a mirror. If I recall correctly, V.S. Ramachandran detailed performing precisely the same technique in his book Phantoms of the Brain for patients who had a phantom hand that was painfully clenched into a tight fist.

      In essence, he had the box and the mirror positioned such that the patient would insert his good arm into the box and have the amputated arm stump occluded. Obviously, a reflected image of the unamputated limb would appear in the mirror to the patient, who was then instructed to position the "phantom limb" such that it superimposed the mirror image. This done, the patient was then instructed to repeatedly clench and declench both hands.

      Obviously only one hand was real, but the correlation between what the brain felt was happening and what the eyes reported was happening was sufficient to fool the brain into believing that the phantom fist had been unclenched and thus the phantom limb pain was eliminated. I believe that Ramachandran reported excellent success with this ingenious medical hack.
    • by meiao ( 846890 )
      I've seen this done with a mirror. Worked well for an arm.
  • Mirrors in a Box (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MBCook ( 132727 ) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @03:17PM (#16841886) Homepage

    I once saw something about this on TV years and years ago. People might feel a phantom limb with a fist grasped so tightly it hurt (like the fingernails in the palm and everything). It was supposed to be horrible (and I'm sure it was).

    The report was on a doctor who had developed a box that the patient stuck their real arm in and using mirrors they could see both arms (obviously just a reflection). By having the patient put their "arms" in clenched and talking to them and having them relax them and thinking about unclenching the fist, it would work. The pain would go away because their brain "saw" that the first was unclenched where as before they couldn't see that. I don't know how long it worked, if it needed to be re-done every six months or whatever, but this isn't out of the blue.

    Very interesting problem, phantom limb syndrome.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mendaliv ( 898932 )
      Sounds like someone's trying to build a better mousetrap.

      I can see very little to no advantage of this over the mirrors in a box method that you describe... the therapist speaking to the patient could be done with a recording, or with practice the patient could learn to accomplish this themselves through meditation. So the entire argument that this VR method is better because it can be done in the patient's home is largely invalid. A box with mirrors and a tape deck is going to be significantly cheaper tha
      • by 49152 ( 690909 )
        Sure with pure VR this may be nothing more than a better mousetrap.

        However you could probably use augmented reality as an alternative. Augmented reality is where an 3D image (or VR) is overlayed on the real world. Today the equipment is a bit cumbersome to carry around, but this will probably be solved in the not so distant future (if not already, been a while since I worked with this).

        Surely a pair of eyeglasses that projects the fake image of your missing limb directly into your eyes beats carrying around
      • by Cyberax ( 705495 )
        VR imitation may be more convincing.

        My uncle has lost his hand in traffic accident and had phantom pains. He used such trick: he stood before the mirror, closed one eye and slowly unclenched fist of his other hand. That was enough to trick brain, but this technique stopped working after some time (so he had to take painkillers for some time).

        VR imitation might help when simple techniques don't work.
    • by maddogsparky ( 202296 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @03:27PM (#16842116)
      Lots of posters are mentioning the mirror trick. Unfortunately, that won't work with some double amputees (i.e. portions of both arms or both legs amputated). This seems like it might help in these cases if they have some way to provide input corresponding to the phantom limb.

      • by Flopy ( 926705 )
        How about two mirrors then?
        Joking aside, I'm just wondering if the mirror trick won't confuse the person using it. For example, if the person clenches a fist, he sees it in both hands but is actually only clenching one...or it would probably feel it was clenching both, as a natural reflex or the like.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by itchy92 ( 533370 )

      The doctor is V.S. Ramachandran, and his work is fascinating. His book on phantom limb syndrome and other psychological conditions is called _Phantoms_in_the_Brain_, and it's thoroughly enjoyable; an easy read (especially if you have no previous exposure to the field), but not so dumbed down as to insult your intelligence. He frequently uses very simple approaches to diagnosing and studying these cases.

      His newer book is called _A_Brief_Tour_of_Human_Consciousness_, which deals with some of the same issues

      • I discovered V.S. Ramachandran through the BBC Reith Lectures [bbc.co.uk] of 2003, available in a RealAudio stream. It's a fascinating lecture series, worth listening too just for Ramachandran's great rolled RRRs.
    • This is a very elegant solution - give the victim of phantom limb syndrome a phantom limb.
  • 2nd life (Score:2, Funny)

    by glen ( 19095 )
    The graphics used by the computer look very crude, almost comically so...

    Wow, it really is like second life.
  • by waif69 ( 322360 )
    I RTFA, and saw no reference to availability. This doesn't seem to be very expensive, in medical cost comparatively. Anyone have experience with this technology, here?
  • by Jamu ( 852752 )
    This is good news for anyone that suffers from phantom limb pain.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I read in a popular science type book by VS Ramachandran [wikipedia.org] that some people can be tricked into recovering from phantom pain simply by looking at a mirror that gives them the appearence that their limb is still there. Near verbatim what he says is, "well, we could've built a big expensive virtual reality device to try this... but we decided to go with something cheaper: mirrors". This was, supposedly, how scientists figured out that the phantom limbs could be addressed by visually "fooling" the brain.

    The w
  • by TheSHAD0W ( 258774 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @03:25PM (#16842062) Homepage
    ...Can we throw in some cacodemons and a grenade launcher to spice up the rehab sessions?
  • I would imagine that this type of research is made much easier by the fact that VR isn't a huge, expensive process any more, but is becoming more of an easily done "off the shelf" process.

    So see? Video games do have some positive side.

  • HeAdOn: VR (Score:2, Funny)

    by RipTides9x ( 804495 )
    VR: Attach it directly to your forehead
    VR: Attach it directly to your forehead
    VR: Attach it directly to your forehead

    Now available without a prescription.

    • by Phu5ion ( 838043 )
      AH! I hate that commercial, it gives me a headache just thinking about it. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go find my HeadOn.
  • who lost their genitalia in an unfortunate smelting accident?
  • ...if Master Billy Quizboy didn't fark up the experiment in the first place, that's all I'm saying.
  • What if...??? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    What if the limb is still there and the person is experiencing this PLP. My father was in a motorcycle accident over 20 years ago and still has pretty severe phantom pain. All this talk about tricking yourself into thinking its there.... it really is there and he has this pain. In the wreck nerves were severed from the spine cutting off feeling from the elbow down, but he opt to keep the arm. Just hopefull something like this might help anyway.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nido ( 102070 )
      Donna Eden talks about treating phantom limb pain in Energy Medicine [innersource.net].

      Unbearable Phantom Pain A good-looking man who had lost both of his legs in Vietnam was brought to me in a wheelchair. No one had been able to help with the pain at the end of where his right foot had been. He vividly recalled the scene of stepping on a land mine and watching the bones and flesh of his right foot explode into pieces. The pain he now had was massive. The sensations were so similar to the original shock that he could never

      • The body's energy systems are all closely associated with physical systems - each of the chakras corresponds with a gland: thymus, pituitary, etc.

        Whatever. The important thing is that the cessation of phantom pain -- a sensation produced by the mind without input from the body -- is *real*. If gently rubbing thin air makes the mind decide the pain isn't there any more, great -- but that probably wouldn't work for me. But stick my arm in a box and give me a 3D simulation of it, and I bet you anything I'll
      • Western science also knows that the placebo effect is real and works for some people, and that medical-sounding gibberish and quackery is often just extra packaging to the placebo pill.
        • I think it quite comical that "fools" explain away technology they don't understand with a phenomena they don't understand either.

          All pills have placebo effects, even the ones that are more than just 'sugar'.
          • "This may sound crazy to you, but I believe I can hold some points in midair hwere your feet were and help you."

            I understand physics enough that I can confidently say there was no physical change to this person's body caused by these actions. The quack performing the act could have held invisible body parts anywhere--could have sprinkled "magic pixie dust" on them--whatever. It doesn't matter what was done, as long as the person being "treated" thought it was doing something.

            There is an evil preacher on TV
            • by nido ( 102070 )
              quacks like your person

              Rather presumptuous, don't you think? What do you know of Mrs. Eden's life work, other than the two pages I graciously typed up for the benefit some anonymous slashdotter's father? (who, I might add, has endured 20 years of "mainstream medicine's" failing to address his non-phantom limb problem.)

              I understand physics enough that I can confidently say ...

              ah yes, "physics". Would that be Newtonian physics? Newtonian physics + relativity? What about Quantum Mechanics? What happens to you
  • "The graphics used by the computer look very crude, almost comically so, but apparently the system works."

    Seems like helping to battle this phantom menace would be a good project for ILM to get involved with. Just leave JarJar out of it this time ;)

  • But then... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Quiet_Desperation ( 858215 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @04:07PM (#16842812)
    ...you jack out of the system, and your limb is gone again. Sounds kind of depressing. I think I'd rather just take an Advil. I mean, the *pain* is real so a pain killer should do something.
  • by ElBuf ( 887442 )
    Does this mean that Second Life can cure users of their Phantom Sexual Attractiveness Pain?
  • ... and a matching solution for the brainless. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/new s/news.html?in_article_id=410642 [dailymail.co.uk]
  • I'm wondering if this could eventually be extended to people using their brains and nervous systems to control a robotic limb. Ridiculous expense aside, I'd think it would meet the "fools your brain into believing the limb is really there"-criteria that the mirror trick or this VR thing already fulfills, but with the added bonus of not having to lose the illusion when you take your hand out of the mirror box or turn off the VR.
  • by multiplexo ( 27356 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @04:41PM (#16843398) Journal
    Well, not really, the first thing I can remember from the day after my left leg was amputated (motorcycle v. pickup truck, pickup truck wins even if motorcycle has right of way) was an intense itching, like the worst case of athlete's foot ever, in the toes of my then newly up the chimney of a medical incinerator left foot. Over the next few months the phantom limb pains decreased in severity and frequency, although I still get them sometimes and they can leave me gasping for breath.

    Neurologically this is kind of interesting and even somewhat cool. About 9 months after my leg was amputated I was out working in my yard clearing a drain during a rainstorm. I was standing in water up to mid calf and my right foot started to get cold because it was soaking wet. I kept mucking out the drain and then I noticed that my left foot, which is actually a cunningly crafted bit [ottobockus.com] of carbon fiber from the folks at Otto Bock [ottobockus.com] felt cold and wet too. It was the damnedest thing and it made me stop for a moment, it felt as if I had a left foot that was in a cold, thoroughly soaking wet sock inside of a thoroughly soaking wet boot. I finished mucking out the drain, went inside, changed into dry clothes and stuck my right foot into a tub of warm water. As my right foot warmed the sensation in my left foot gradually decreased. If I am wearing my prosthesis phantom limb pains feel as if they are coming from the ankle and/or foot of my left leg, if I'm not wearing the prosthesis they feel as if they are coming from the stump. Amputation, the gift that keeps on giving.

  • Dr. V.S. Ramachandran (a disciple of Dr. Sachs) reported something similar in his book Phantoms of the Brain back in 1999. He used mirrors to mirror the existing limb with the phantom limb. Dr. Ramachandran would then tell the patient to move both limbs together. When the patient moved the existing limb and saw the "phantom limb" also move, they could feel the phantom limb move out of the position that may have caused the pain.

    It's an Excellent book, and is still in print.
  • The machine worked so well that every molecule in his extremities was accelerated beyond the speed of light. There were two side effects. One - He could mess up a guy just by touching him. And two - He became a humorless dick!
  • The graphics used by the computer look very crude, almost comically so
    You don't get it, it's all about the gameplay ! The wiimote is... oh wait...
  • This type of thing was done quite some time ago simply using a mirror box. The person only has one limb, but it appears as two, and the brain thinks the mirrored limb is real, and the phantom pain goes away.
  • This doesn't even have the slightest connection to second life, their system is not online and second life is not VR , in fact the article only mentions lawnmower man.

    I look forward to the day when not every other article has second life crowbarred into it.
  • The article makes no mention of Second Life, so I was wondering just where the anonymous submitter got that connection from.

    Then I read his last sentence. "The graphics used by the computer look very crude, almost comically so, but apparently the system works."

    Yeah, that's about right.

  • Can it cure my penis envy?

    Having my phallus drawn in huge proportions even in 16 or even 8bit should offer some relief... no?
  • he suffered a brachial plexus lesion after a motorcycle accident, and eventually opted for amputation some 3 years later.

    luckily for him his wife is medically well qualified and teaches nursing, and well connected medically, and he is a determined sort of bloke.

    "phantom pain" he told me it felt like his not present arm was dipped in hot chip fat, so eventually last year he ended up in an MRI scanner under a doctor who was researching this subject, and they discovered that the pain is in fact not phantom or
  • Why is there a random plug for Second Life in the middle of this article that has absolutely nothing to do with Second Life?
  • I'm not a doctor or pharmacist, but don't we have drugs like Neurontin (Gabapentin) that decrease the sensation already? Aside from medication side effects, is this any better or effective?
    • by kertong ( 179136 )
      If you don't want to resort to drugs (as fun as they can be), there's a quick and interesting solution. For example, say you're missing your right arm and are feeling phantom pain. You can put your left arm into a box with the top cut open. To the right of the box is a mirror angled upwards, creating a mirror image of your left arm as your right.

      Apparently, this tricks the brain, and supposedly relieves all phantom pain instantly. It's been a while since I read the book so I forget the details, but it's
    • I'm not a doctor or pharmacist, but don't we have drugs like Neurontin (Gabapentin) that decrease the sensation already? Aside from medication side effects, is this any better or effective?


      Common sense tells me that modifying the brain's behavior or functioning without drugs is usually better than with drugs. Of course, effectiveness is often a different story.
  • Doctors used to think that if you cut the nerve to something, you wouldn't feel anything from that area because your brain wouldn't get a signal from that area.

    As it turns out, it's nowhere near that simple. You can't just transect a nerve to make someone with a really damaged body stop feeling pain in that area, and for the same reason, amputees still get sensations from limbs that aren't there and nerves that aren't connected to anything.

    The brain doesn't recognize pain based on polling a nerve for pain s
  • There is another option coming on line: Osseointegration. http://www.oandp.com/edge/issues/articles/2006-09_ 03.asp [oandp.com] In two operations, the amputee has an inert titanium implant inserted into the bone of the stump and the wound is closed over. After six months, a second operation attaches a titanium bolt to the abutment. The bolt protrudes through the skin and the artificial limb is attached to it. See the article for details.

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