Individuals who have gone through an amputation sometimes experience a sensation known as phantom limb pain.
This phenomenon was once thought to be a psychological issue, but science has revealed the sensations associated with it actually originate in the spinal cord and brain. Essentially, an individual who has lost an arm or a leg–or any part of a limb–still has the sensation that part of the body is intact.
Although the limb is no longer there, the nerve endings at the site of the amputation continue to send pain signals to the brain that make the brain think the limb is still there. Sometimes, the brain memory of pain is retained and is interpreted as pain, regardless of signals from injured nerves.
It is also possible for the phantom limb to experience other sensations, such as tingling, itching, or fluctuations of hot and cold.
Treatment for phantom limb pain has traditionally included massage to work the nerve endings, TENS stimulation of the stump, pain medications, heat therapy, acupuncture, hypnosis, or surgical intervention. Many times a combination of therapies must be used to achieve relief.
New treatment methods may provide more complete relief from phantom limb pain
Because phantom limb pain can be difficult to treat, many individuals never find relief. New research may offer these patients a chance. Researchers have developed an augmented reality system designed specifically to handle phantom limb pain. The new technology allows the patient to receive visual as well as neurological feedback that their missing limb is actually present.
Phantom limb pain can be very difficult to treat and may never be fully resolved.
But, by using a computer program, someone with phantom limb pain can see a virtual version of their missing body part on a screen. Then, using electrodes on the arm itself, the individual can control the virtual limb on the computer screen as if it were really there. This method of training the brain can help it to overcome the sensations of pain that are at the root of phantom limb pain.
It is the visual reinforcement of “motor execution” followed by a sense of completing that eventually allows patients with phantom limb pain to become pain-free.
For more information on phantom limb pain treatment, contact Franklin Pain and Wellness Center.