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.
Copyright © 2021 International Association for the Study of Pain.