Scientists in Sweden have developed an effective treatment for phantom limb pain (PLP), a medical disorder that makes a person feel pain in the amputated limb area.
Though phantom limb pain is a common difficulty experienced after one loses his/her arm or leg, it can also happen after the removal of other body parts like eye, tongue, breast or penis. Health experts say that it is not a psychological problem as the sensations originally stem from brain and spinal cord. This is because the nerve endings on the amputated area continue sending pain signals to the brain, giving it a feeling that the limb has not been removed but is still in its original position.
Apart from severe pain, the condition also gives a feeling of cramping, tingling, heat and cold in the area. Though various methods, including medication, mirror therapy, acupuncture and hypnosis, are available to treat phantom limb pain, nothing has been effective.
The new technique works on a virtual arm, created with the help of an augmented reality, and thus tricking the brain and making it believe that the amputated part exists. Interestingly, the superimposed virtual arm can be entirely controlled by the patient's own brain.
"There are several features of this system which combined might be the cause of pain relief" Max Ortiz Catalan, researcher at Chalmers University of Technology, who developed the method, said in a news release. "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."
Initial experiments, on a patient suffering from phantom limb pain for 48 years, showed that the system is highly effective in reducing pain.
The study has been reported in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.
Watch how the new technique works: