Virtual limbs decrease phantom limb pain
Feb 26 2014
A treatment for patients that have had limbs amputated and now suffer from phantom limb pain has been devised to ease discomfort and improve quality of life. Around 70 per cent of amputees suffer from pain in the missing limb, causing great discomfort.
Phantom limb pain can be a very serious issue, with large impacts on peace of mind and quality of life. It can result in a number of different sensations in people's missing limbs, such as shooting pains, burning, aches, cramping or sharp pains. It is not known how the condition develops, but a new treatment aims to provide some relief.
There are a number of treatments that are currently used, but their success rates are varied. These include mirror box therapy, hypnosis, acupuncture and medications.
Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden has used a new method with the aim of reducing pain and discomfort in missing limbs. Researchers developed technology that reads electrical signals from the remaining muscles to create movements within a virtual arm.
The technique has been tested on a male amputee that has continued to suffer from phantom limb pain for 48 years. Electrodes were placed on his skin to read the muscles' electrical signals, these signals were then translated via algorithms into movements that the missing arm would make. These movements were displayed on a screen, allowing the patient to see himself with the missing limb, allowing him to control its movement.
The patient has said that he now has periods of no pain at all, following the treatment. He has never before experienced no pain in his missing limb, even after undergoing treatments that are currently widely used.
Max Ortiz Catalan, leader of the study, said: "The motor areas in the brain needed for movement of the amputated arm are reactivated, and the patient obtains visual feedback that tricks the brain into believing there is an arm executing such motor commands. He experiences himself as a whole, with the amputated arm back in place."
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