Immersive Virtual Reality for Pain Relief in Upper Limb Complex Regional Pain Syndrome: A Pilot Study

Innov Clin Neurosci. 2020 Apr 1;17(4-6):47-52.


Objective: This pilot study explored the effects of therapeutic immersive virtual reality (VR) on pain in upper limb complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). While acute pain relief with VR has been studied in multiple populations, there is little data on the use of this modality in treating chronic pain, especially CRPS. Participants: Volunteer participants were recruited from outpatient rehabilitation services. Inclusion criteria required the diagnosis of CRPS in at least one upper limb and the ability to communicate in English to receive instructions from study personnel. A total of eight participants were recruited, with six fully completing the study. Interventions: An immersive virtual three-dimensional interactive kitchen environment was designed that allowed visualization of and object manipulation with virtual hands. Participants performed tasks representative of daily activities, as well as guided visualization exercises for a total of 10 sessions. Main Outcome Measure: Preand post-session pain scale measurements (Short Form McGill Pain Questionnaire, Visual Analog Scale, and Wong-Baker FACES) and subjective feedback were collected with each session. Results: Four of the six participants that completed the study reported subjective improvement of their pain and daily function. However, objective pain scales had limited correlation to reported subjective relief. Conclusions: Immersive virtual reality might provide subjective analgesia and functional improvement in select patients with upper limb complex regional pain syndrome, but objective data is lacking.

Keywords: Complex Regional Pain Syndrome; VR; Virtual reality; chronic pain, therapy; rehabilitation.