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J Spinal Cord Med. 2019 Feb 1:1-11. doi: 10.1080/10790268.2019.1575554. [Epub ahead of print]

Virtual reality for the treatment of neuropathic pain in people with spinal cord injuries: A scoping review.

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a Department of Pain Management, HammondCare , Greenwich Hospital , Sydney , New South Wales , Australia.
b Sydney Medical School-Northern, University of Sydney , Sydney , New South Wales , Australia.



Virtual and augmented imagery are emerging technologies with potential to reduce the severity and impact of neuropathic pain in people with spinal cord injury (SCI).


We aimed to identify and discuss studies using virtual and augmented reality applications for the management of neuropathic pain in people with spinal cord injury. Methods (data sources, data extraction): A systematic literature search was conducted using PRISMA scoping review guidelines. Articles were searched in PubMed, Embase and Web of Science databases using search terms relating to SCI, virtual and augmented reality and neuropathic pain. With no strong evidence for visual imagery in the treatment of pain in SCI patients, we selected exploratory, feasibility and more rigorous methodologies such as randomized controlled trials and case-control studies. We only selected studies evaluating the effects of visual imagery on neuropathic pain at or below the spinal cord injury level.


Of 60 articles located, we included nine articles involving 207 participants. All studies were exploratory using head-mounted devices or 3D and 2D screens with virtual walking or limb movement imagery. Outcomes included pain sensitivity, motor function and body ownership. Eight of the nine studies reported significant reductions in neuropathic pain intensity. However, given small sample sizes in all studies, results may be unreliable.


Although the number of studies and individual sample sizes are small, these initial findings are promising. Given the limited options available for the effective treatment of neuropathic SCI pain and early evidence of efficacy, they provide valuable incentive for further research.


Neuropathic pain; Spinal cord injury; Virtual reality; Visual illusion

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