Immersive interactive virtual walking reduces neuropathic pain in spinal cord injury: Findings from a preliminary investigation of feasibility and clinical efficacy

Zina Trost, Monima Anam, Joshua Seward, Corey Shum, Deanna Rumble, John Sturgeon, Victor Mark, Yuying Chen, Lucie Mitchell, Rachel Cowan, Robert Perera, Elizabeth Richardson, Scott Richards, Sylvia Gustin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Chronic neuropathic pain (NP) is a common and often debilitating secondary condition for persons with spinal cord injury (SCI) and is minimally responsive to existing pharmacological and nonpharmacological treatments. The current preliminary investigation describes the feasibility and initial comparative efficacy of an interactive virtual reality walking intervention, which is a novel extension of visual feedback/illusory walking therapies shown to reduce SCI NP. Virtual reality walking intervention builds on previous research by, for the first time, allowing individuals with SCI NP to volitionally control virtual gait to interact with a fully immersive virtual environment. The current pilot study compared this interactive, virtual walking intervention to a passive, noninteractive virtual walking condition (analogous to previous illusory walking interventions) in 27 individuals with complete paraplegia (interactive condition, n= 17; passive condition, n = 10; nonrandomized design). The intervention was delivered over 2 weeks in individuals' homes. Participants in the interactive condition endorsed significantly greater reductions in NP intensity and NP-related activity interference preintervention to postintervention. Notable improvements in mood and affect were also observed both within individual sessions and in response to the full intervention. These results, although preliminary, highlight the potentially potent effects of an interactive virtual walking intervention for SCI NP. The current study results require replication in a larger, randomized clinical trial and may form a valuable basis for future inquiry regarding the mechanisms and clinical applications of virtual walking therapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)350-361
Number of pages12
JournalPain
Volume163
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2022
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Neuropathic pain
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Virtual reality
  • Virtual reality walking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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