Virtual and augmented reality in the treatment of phantom limb pain: A literature review

NeuroRehabilitation. 2017;40(4):595-601. doi: 10.3233/NRE-171447.


Background: Phantom limb pain (PLP), the perception of discomfort in a limb no longer present, commonly occurs following amputation. A variety of interventions have been employed for PLP, including mirror therapy. Virtual Reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) mirror therapy treatments have also been utilized and have the potential to provide an even greater immersive experience for the amputee. However, there is not currently a consensus on the efficacy of VR and AR therapy.

Objective: The aim of this review is to evaluate and summarize the current research on the effect of immersive VR and AR in the treatment of PLP.

Methods: A comprehensive literature search was conducted utilizing PubMed and Google Scholar in order to collect all available studies concerning the use of VR and/or AR in the treatment of PLP using the search terms "virtual reality," "augmented reality," and "phantom limb pain." Eight studies in total were evaluated, with six of those reporting quantitative data and the other two reporting qualitative findings.

Results: All studies located were of low-level evidence. Each noted improved pain with VR and AR treatment for phantom limb pain, through quantitative or qualitative reporting. Additionally, adverse effects were limited only to simulator sickness occurring in one trial for one patient.

Conclusions: Despite the positive findings, all of the studies were confined purely to case studies and case report series. No studies of higher evidence have been conducted, thus considerably limiting the strength of the findings. As such, the current use of VR and AR for PLP management, while attractive due to the increasing levels of immersion, customizable environments, and decreasing cost, is yet to be fully proven and continues to need further research with higher quality studies to fully explore its benefits.

Keywords: Virtual reality; augmented reality; phantom limb pain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neurological Rehabilitation / methods*
  • Phantom Limb / psychology
  • Phantom Limb / rehabilitation*
  • Reality Therapy / methods*
  • Virtual Reality