Computer Guided Mirage Image Therapy Reduces Arthritis Pain

Apr 15th, 2011 | By | Category: Health

Computer-guided image therapy can reduce arthritis pain, researchers at the University of Nottingham School of Psychology have discovered. Their research offers arthritis sufferers hope of a new alternative for drugs and surgery.

The technology employed in the therapy, called Mirage, uses computer-generated images as a biofeedback mechanism to guide patients’ perception of pain. Patients place their hands into a box with a camera in it, creating a video projection of an image of their hands. The image is then manipulated by projecting an image of the doctor gently grabbing the patient’s fingertip and stretching and shrinking it.

The Mirage therapy method was tested on a small sample of arthritis sufferers with an average age of 70. 85 percent of those studied experienced a reduction in pain of at least 50 percent. One third stopped feeling pain altogether. Some experienced pain reduction when the images shrank, while others experienced relief when the images stretched.

Some volunteers also found that following the test, they experienced greater freedom of movement in their hands. These results will be reported in the next edition of the medical journal Rheumatology.

University of Nottingham psychologist Dr. Roger Newport, who is leading the research, is not sure exactly why Mirage works. Dr. Newport offered several theories to the BBC, ranging from sensory illusion to dissociation:

“It could be because we’re tricking the brain into making the hand feel different than it normally does. Or it could be because the brain no longer treats the hand as your own. Or it simply could be because we’re changing the way the swelling appears.”

So far the pain relief induced by Mirage has been temporary, lasting the duration of the session. Dr. Newport plans to conduct follow-up research to see if reinforcement from multiple sessions produces longer-term results. He also observes that even temporary relief can provide enough additional freedom of movement for arthritis sufferers to exercise their limbs more than normal, countering the inactivity that is one of the major contributors to arthritis:

“The other benefit. . .is that while they’re pain free, they can move their hands around a lot more than they could before. Now one of the problems in osteoarthritis is that people become inactive. And so if they have temporary pain relief and do exercise, then that can only help.”

Further research is being funded by a grant from the Dunhill Medical Trust.

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