MRRI and Collaborators Receive NIH Funding to Study a Novel Virtual Reality Treatment for Phantom Leg Pain

Nearly two million people in the United States alone have undergone limb amputation, and up to 85% of individuals experience persistent and debilitating pain in their missing limb after amputation. This phenomenon is known as phantom limb pain. Previous research from the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) has shown that phantom limb pain can be reduced in people with below the knee amputations by participating in virtual reality (VR) programs that combine active leg movements and visual inputs of a virtual limb.

MRRI Associate Director Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD, and longtime collaborator Branch Coslett, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania are Co-Principal Investigators on a large new multi-site grant recently funded by the National Institutes of Health. Alberto Esquenazi, MD, Chief Medical Officer of MossRehab and Director of the MossRehab Regional Amputee Center will also collaborate. Through this grant, the investigators will conduct a clinical trial to assess the mechanisms and efficacy of a novel VR treatment for phantom leg pain. The treatment consists of a variety of engaging games conducted in the VR world. The project will also assess the neurological changes that accompany the benefits seen following treatment, and will test a low-cost, home-based telerehabilitation treatment that could make this form of therapy more accessible for individuals with leg amputations.

The three sites for this multi-site clinical trial will be MRRI (led by Dr. Buxbaum), the University of Pennsylvania (led by Dr. Coslett), and the University of Washington/Harborview Medical Center (led by Eric Rombokas, PhD, Co-Investigator). The clinical trial will improve our understanding of the neural basis of phantom limb pain and will serve as an important bridge to the development of an accessible clinical treatment for phantom leg pain.

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