Quirks & Quarks

Mysterious phantom pain 'cured' by virtual reality limb

VR treatment could prove more effective than any measures applied right now
A virtual arms is controlled by muscle signals, which alleviates phantom limb pain. (Max Ortiz Catalan)

Phantom limb pain is common in people who have experienced the amputation of any part of their body. Traditional treatments include pain killers, acupuncture, and a common process known as mirror therapy. 

But Dr. Max Ortiz Catalan, an Assistant Professor at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, has developed a novel method using machine learning and augmented reality.

In the experiment, amputees are able to control a virtual limb on a computer screen as artificial intelligence algorithms translate signals from muscles in the remaining part of the limb. In this process, the part of the brain that was once used to activate the limb is reactivated

The researchers believe tricking the brain in this way may be responsible for the success of the experiment.  All 14 volunteers experienced at least a 50 percent reduction in phantom limb pain.

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