Who We Are
Neuroplasticity VR is an informal group of friends trying to see if Virtual Reality (3D videos and CGI content viewed using a headset) can reduce or even eliminate neuropathic pain experienced by those with a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI), amputees, or other nerve related injuries.
How This All Started
On July 28th, 2019, Robert asked on Facebook if anyone might have some knowledge regarding Virtual Reality systems, so that he might experiment with leveraging this technology to aid in neuroplasticity of the brain. His goal was to decease or eliminate his neuropathic pain caused by a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI), through watching 3D videos of an able-bodied friend moving his toes, feet, knees and legs, via a VR headset. The hypothesis was that if Rob could fool his brain into thinking that he can move his lower body, his brain should decrease or even stop experiencing the burning pain signals, trying to warm him that something is wrong below his injury.
The response Rob received was inspiring, and within days friends were expressing their interest in helping out. Many found and forwarded links to research where experiments with this technology have shown promising results. Here is one such video – LINK
The Back Story
For those curious about the back story to how Rob got to where he is today, you can read below a summary of the last 10+ years.
In October of 2008, Robert suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury in a mountain biking accident, resulting in complete paraplegia. Seven weeks after his accident, while in hospital recovering, he began to feel a tingling and slight burning pain in his toes. Excited that this might be a return to feeling, Rob was informed that it was most likely the onset of neuropathic pain. Conducting a quick online search, the first few results explained the phenomenon of neuropathic pain, and also indicated that this pain is often referred to as ‘suicide pain’.
Essentially, because the spinal cord is damaged and he no longer uses his lower body, his brain assumes something is terribly wrong and generates pain signals to warn him of the problem. Each day Rob typically wakes up with at least a tingling sensation in his feet, but by mid-day this tingling will often turn into a burning sensation and progresses all the way to his mid-section and can often reach a level of 10/10.
In 2004, prior to meeting with a Dr. specializing in neuroplasticity, Robert summarized his attempts to solve the Neuropathic pain. Below the summary has been pasted, and updated to present day:
- Medications at varying dosages and combinations. Gabapentin, Nortriptyline, Lyrica
- Side effects were terrible, and I eventually stopped them all together.
- Tried again in 2019 with the same results
- Massage and Chiropractor
- Chiropractic adjustments fire up the nerve pain,
- Massage and head scratch can lessen it somewhat
- Continue to do this every two weeks so that I can stay active with triathlon training
- Generally seemed to make my nerve pain worse. Stopped this treatment after my lung was punctured with a needle in 2011.
- Tried this for a month but didn’t find any relief whatsoever
- Investigated spinal cord or brain stimulation, but I’m not willing to have holes drilled in my head for a 50% chance of ‘some relief’
- MBSR – Mind body stress reduction. This provides some relief to calm my body and the nerve pain and helps me fall asleep.
- Exercise – this helps me the most. The distraction of the pain, the enjoyment of getting stronger, and the rush of endorphins. I’ve taking this to the extreme and in 2013 became the first Canadian paraplegic to finish a full Ironman triathlon (226 kms of swimming, biking and running)
- Pain chart. In 2011 I tracked my pain and all the variables I thought that might be related to it. I could find no correlations and after 8 months stopped. I think just thinking about and classifying the pain three times a day just made things worse.
- Appointments with Dr. Joaquin Farias, specializing in Dystonia. He moved my feet for me while I tried to move them like before. It changed the quality of the pain sensation and was quite emotional. My homework was to do these exercises daily, but I was not successful. On bad pain days I couldn’t stay focused and on good days, I forgot to do the exercises.
- In 2017 I began experimenting with Cannabis (through medical practitioners and then independently). The results have been mixed at best, with the vast majority of use done at night to help with sleep and restlessness, and in combination with opioids.
- In 2018 I began seeing a pain specialist. His recommendations revolved primarily around opioids (Butrans patches and Tramadol) and is currently suggesting a Lidocaine Infusion which I need to research. This Dr. also suggested getting into an exoskeleton so that I can walk with the help of technology, and potentially calm the brain into thinking I’m fine. That has proven difficult to locate and secure for various reasons but has led me to today’s focus of VR neuroplasticity.
- Feeling confident that the brain is the ultimate gatekeeper of pain, I wondered if a VR solution might allow me to fool my brain into thinking that everything is fine and consequently, to stop producing a pain signal. Research (below) indicates that others have had this thought too and have begun conducting research with promising results.
Meet the Team
It’s a small but growing team of individuals excited to contribute to, and experiment and hopefully benefit from various VR therapies. Thanks to everyone who has assisted and please let us know if you’d like to be involved in a more formal way.