Like most teens, Erin, 14, loves to play video games, but her virtual reality (VR) sessions at Cincinnati Children’s were about so much more.
“When I first got here, I was in a wheelchair,” said Erin. “I couldn't move or feel my legs. I really wasn't doing anything in my everyday life.”
Erin suffers from a nerve condition that causes excruciating pain in her legs, which is why she needed a wheelchair to help her move. The condition is called amplified musculoskeletal pain syndrome or AMPS.
“It comes from the nerves and the nerves remembering a time where a joint was hyper extended or the nerves remembering a time where there was damage or injury, but there is no active damage,” said Sara Williams, PhD, a pediatric psychologist with the FIRST program, which stands for functional independence restoration. “The analogy we use is – it's like the fire is out, but the alarm is still ringing, and the alarm becomes the problem."
Doctors at Cincinnati Children’s said movement is the treatment. Her care team introduced virtual reality to get Erin moving on her own.
“We find that a lot of kids when they're using the VR headset, are able to do so much more than if they are in an environment where they're really focused on the part of their body that is causing them a challenge,” said Williams. “And we think that it’s because the immersive reality is really taking them to a different place that's allowing their brain to kind of let go."
After six weeks of treatment, VR helped Erin say goodbye to her wheelchair.
“I started using my legs to propel myself in my wheelchair. Then I started using a walker, to get around everywhere and now I don't need any assistive devices,” Erin said. “Do not underestimate the power of VR. It really can work miracles."
Erin walked out of the hospital by herself. She is now back home and enjoying life again.