Prosthetics Ease Phantom Pain

Evidence suggests that amputees may find wearing any prosthetic limb helps to ease phantom pain.  We know from working with amputees across Michigan from Grand Rapids, to Traverse City and Petoskey that often prosthetics decrease pain. Scientists in Germany may have taken that a step further by producing a modified prosthetic device that reduces phantom pain by using a stimulation unit to transmit data to the brain.

Phantom pain has long been associated with the trauma of amputation, with amputees reporting feelings of pain and the sensation that the amputated limb is still there. Some find the sensations decrease over time but for others it is chronic and debilitating. It may range from an intermittent stabbing feeling to an intense feeling of excruciating proportions. There are many theories for why amputees experience phantom pain, some experts believing that the brain maps the whole body and continues to send messages even after a part of the body is severed. This helps to explain why many of the Michigan amputees experienced decreased pain after using a prosthetic.

Advanced Sensory Technology

Using this line of reasoning, the German scientists worked with trauma surgeons to enhance pressure sensors that are used in prosthetic hands to regulate grip strength (for a firm grasp on a hammer versus, say, to the delicate touch required for a raw egg).

What the German scientists were able to do is take the feedback a step further, sending the sensory information from the hand to the upper arm and then on to the brain. This way the brain receives information and signals from the prosthesis as if it was the missing limb.

The result is that with the appropriate sensory information transmitted to the brain, phantom pain is prevented or decreased even further. Plans now are to test the specially designed prosthesis on other patients. The scientists would also like to find out if this work for phantom hand pain is as effective for other amputated limbs.

Other Ways to Alleviate Phantom Pain

Michigan amputees have reported successfully decreasing phantom pain with alternative therapies such as acupuncture, cranial sacral therapy and biofeedback. Some find that applying cold compresses, ice packs or cooling gels to the residual limb help to reduce the discomfort of phantom pain and muscle spasms.

Sometimes tracking the times you experience phantom pain, just as migraine sufferers do, you may discover that certain situations or feelings of stress or anxiety may be triggers. Bandaging, shrinker socks to apply pressure to the residual limb and wearing custom-designed prosthetics as you move around and gently exercise may also help to alleviate phantom limb pain.

There is no one solution for Grand Rapids amputees or those across the country yet, but maybe after further testing the pressure sensor prosthetic will be that solution. For more information on cutting edge advancements in prosthetics contact Teter Orthotics & Prosthetics at one of their 22 locations throughout the state of Michigan, including Grand Rapids, Petoskey, Cadillac and Traverse City.