A therapeutic matrix: Virtual reality as a clinical tool for spinal cord injury-induced neuropathic pain

Erik Leemhuis, Valentina Giuffrida, Anna Maria Giannini, Mariella Pazzaglia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neuropathic pain (NP) is a chronic, debilitating, and resistant form of pain. The onset rate of NP following spinal cord injuries (SCI) is high and may reduce the quality of life more than the sensorimotor loss itself. The long-term ineffectiveness of current treatments in managing symptoms and counteracting maladaptive plasticity highlights the need to find alternative therapeutic approaches. Virtual reality (VR) is possibly the best way to administer the specific illusory or reality-like experience and promote behavioral responses that may be effective in mitigating the effects of long-established NP. This approach aims to promote a more systematic adoption of VR-related techniques in pain research and management procedures, highlighting the encouraging preliminary results in SCI. We suggest that the multisensory modulation of the sense of agency and ownership by residual body signals may produce positive responses in cases of brain-body disconnection. First, we focus on the transversal role embodiment and how multisensory and environmental or artificial stimuli modulate illusory sensations of bodily presence and ownership. Then, we present a brief overview of the use of VR in healthcare and pain management. Finally, we discus research experiences which used VR in patients with SCI to treating NP, including the most recent combinations of VR with further stimulation techniques.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1201
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021


  • Body representation
  • Deafferentation
  • Disembodied
  • Neuro-plasticity
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Rehabilitation
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Virtual reality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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