Virtual Reality for Chronic Pain and Stroke

The VR system is designed to use brain plasticity and enhance learning processes in patients who are unable to use their arm due to stroke or chronic pain. It does so by simulating a virtual environment where the patient may view himself in real time, doing pain-free movements with an arm, a hand or a shoulder, which are otherwise chronically painful or paralyzed.

A video camera is used to photograph the patient and a computer simulates the functions based on the physical presence of the patient at that moment. The difference between this novel system and other VR systems for therapy of pain is that in our system the patient sees his own face and body in the virtual environment. This self-face recognition activates a unique combination of brain structures.

The VR system is a product of multidisciplinary work in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Hadassah Mount Scopus Hospital. The team includes Shimon Shiri, a rehabilitation psychologist, Uri Feintuch, PhD, a computational neuroscientist and Zeev Meiner, MD, a senior neurologist and physiatrist.

A phase II trial of the Virtual Reality System for the treatment of chronic pain in stroke patients will begin in September 2007 I the department of PM&R and will recruit a total of 90 post stroke patients, who will be followed for one year. According to early clinical data from a study of a small number of patients, showed that the VR system helps patients suffer less pain in their weak arm and perform better than patients who are not treated by the system.

The same system may be used for treatment of pain and disability caused by many other reasons beyond stroke. A pipeline of other products are currently under development at Hadassah based on the VR technology including a device that combines virtual reality and biofeedback to treat tension headaches and migraines.

Updated March 2018