Phantom Limb Pain (PLP) is something difficult to conceptualise if you’ve not experienced it. People who haven’t had to have parts of their body amputated don’t immediately understand that, when injury is experienced somewhere on them, it’s the brain that registers what we know of as “pain”. Yet for amputees it can be a debilitating problem, with incredible episodes of chronic discomfort that cannot be treated due to the limb not actually being present. Until now it’s been almost impossible to deal with; however, researchers at the University of Manchester, UK, have given sufferers a fake limb – not made of rubber or plastic, but experienced through virtual reality.
Previous research has apparently shown that by tricking the brain into believing the limb is still there, pain can decrease; four out of five patients trialling this new system showed improvements in their PLP, in some cases almost immediately. Sessions with the technology occurred seven to ten times in the course of just two to three months, for 30 minutes each time, and with both hand and foot amputees.
Further trials will be carried out to identify who is most likely to benefit from the system.