Virtual Reality Could Be ‘Breakthrough In Neurological Treatments’

Over the years, Virtual Reality (VR) has proved itself to have many uses, from changing the face of marketing to improving gaming technology.

However, while commercial 360 video production presents an exciting new element in the world of media, VR has been shown to have more meaningful and important functions as well.

Indeed, some experts believe VR could end up becoming pioneering technology in medical treatments, being able to attain results current equipment is unable to achieve.

According to David Putrino, assistant professor at the Ichan School of Mount Sinai and head of Mount Sinai’s Abilities Research Center in the US, VR technology has huge potential in the health sector.

In a speech at GDC recently, Dr Putrino suggested VR could help patients with pain relief as medications are unable to relieve chronic pain in many cases. In fact, according to an article in, less than 30 per cent of patients with neuropathic pain experience relief from drugs.

“We have this whole network of neuros that are affectionately called ‘mirror neurons’… that will fire and get excited whether you’re performing a task, or just watching someone perform a task,” Dr Putrino told the audience.

He noted that imagination, therefore, has a big role to play in triggering the neurons. As VR is all about providing the user with the illusion of a new reality, this could convince the neurons to act, despite the experience being, in fact, fake.

According to the article, Dr Putrino claimed a 40 per cent reduction in pain for those patients who underwent ten minutes of VR activity.

His theory stems from neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran’s proposal regarding phantom limb syndrome, whereby a person with an amputated foot or hand can still feel pain in a limb that no longer exists. He asserted that by putting healthy limb in a box with a mirror, the reflection could give patients the illusion of having two intact body parts, and therefore, relieve their pains.

Dr Putrino believes the same can be achieved by using VR, by tricking patients into believing their body is healthy and strong.

This is not the first medical treatment proposal that has involved VR, and many health professionals are seeing the technology as a viable way of treating their patients’ conditions.

For instance, the Best Virtual Reality Prize at the Reality Virtually Hackathon was awarded to a team called Move2Improve.

The event, held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab between January 17th and 21st this year, gave the winning group the opportunity to compete for $30,000 (£22,845).

Scientists behind Move2Improve created the product, which is a physical therapy game to encourage patients with upper limb injuries to improve their outcomes, within just five days, The University of Delaware revealed.

It works by the patient wearing a VR headset and completing drawings with the hand that has been affected by the injury. These drawings then come to life within the VR world, motivating the patient to accomplish even more challenging drawings as the game progresses.

It is thought that by being able to engage and interact with the game, physical therapy patients can avoid feeling bored with their exercises and improve their prognosis.

However VR technology is utilised, it is clear that its uses are going to be more far-reaching than we could have ever imagined.

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