Background: Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a rare and severe chronic pain condition, with effective treatment options not established for many patients. The underlying pathophysiology remains unclear, but there is a growing appreciation for the role of central mechanisms which have formed the basis for brain-based therapies such as transcranial magnetic stimulation and mirror visual feedback (MVF). MVF has been deployed in the treatment of CRPS using both conventional mirrors and virtual reality (VR).
Objective: The aim of this study was to further investigate the use of VR in the treatment of patients with unilateral upper limb CRPS. VR has the potential advantage of more flexible and more motivating tasks, as well as the option of tracking patient improvement through the use of movement data.
Methods: We describe the development, acceptability, feasibility, and usability of an open-source VR program MVF module designed to be used with consumer VR systems for the treatment of CRPS. The development team was an interdisciplinary group of physical therapists, pain researchers, and VR researchers. Patients recruited from a pain clinic completed 3-5 visits each to trial the system and assessed their experiences in pre- and post-treatment questionnaires.
Results: All 9 (100%) participants were able to use the system for 3, 4, or 5 trials each. None of the participants quit any trial due to cybersickness. All 9 (100%) participants reported interest in using the module in the future. Participants' reported average pain scores in the affected limb were not significantly different from baseline during treatment or after treatment (P=.16). We did not find a statistically significant effect on participants' self-reported average pain scores.
Conclusions: We propose that this module could be a useful starting point for modification and testing for other researchers. We share modifications to make this module usable with standalone headsets and finger tracking. Next steps include adapting this module for at-home use, or for use with participants with lower limb pain.
Keywords: CRPS; complex regional pain syndrome; mirror visual feedback; open source; pain; virtual reality.
©Andrea Stevenson Won, Ariana C Barreau, Mark Gaertner, Tristan Stone, Joshua Zhu, Cheng Yao Wang, Sean Mackey. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (https://www.jmir.org), 26.05.2021.