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Freezing Technique Could Ease Amputees' Phantom Limb Pain

Apr 26, 2016 03:48 AM EDT
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Amputees experience phantom limb pain which is a sensation coming from the place where the amputation was performed.
(Photo : Mario Tama/Getty Images)

In the U.S., there are approximately 1.9 million amputees, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology under the U.S Department of Commerce. Aside from losing entire limbs, amputees suffer from phantom limb pain, which is an experienced sensation of pain coming from the area where the amputation was performed. It is a chronic condition amputees must endure, but recent studies show that a freezing technique could help ease this phantom limb pain.

Although amputation can be a necessary measure for anyone suffering from a variety of illnesses or accident victims, most amputees are military veterans wounded in combat and people with chronic diseases like diabetes. All of them suffer from the phantom pains, which are not likely to go away for the rest of their lives.

According to Science Daily, the study is based on Cryoablation therapy, which is described as a "minimally invasive targeted treatment using cold blasts," aptly dubbed a freezing technique. Experts say that this pioneering technique shows promise to ease the pain experienced by amputees. "Now, with the promise of cryoablation, these individuals have a viable treatment option to target this lingering side effect of amputation - a condition that was previously largely untreatable," said Dr. J. David Prologo, Assistant Professor, Division of Interventional Radiology at the Emory University School of Medicine.

In a press release by the Society of Interventional Radiology, a team of scientists, doctors and medical professionals focused on improving patient care through guided therapy. They confirmed that this new technique "can freeze out phantom limb pain."

To arrive at these findings, they tested the technique with 20 patients, each was treated using the guided freezing technique, "cryoablation of the nerve and scar tissue in the residual limb," where the amputation was executed.

The paper further explained the scientific process, saying that in order to ease the pain during cryoablation, "a probe is precisely placed through the skin and the temperature is dropped for 25 minutes to create an ablation zone, shutting down nerve signals".

To their relief, when they asked patients to rate their pain from 1 to 10, patients garnered an average of 2.4 points after 45 days of treatment. Before the freezing technique was employed, their average pain level was 6.2.

In an article by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, they also cited the study and said that although potentially effective, they quoted Dr. Prologo when he said that it may not work for everyone. "Although the overall average change in pain scores and quality of life improved and reached statistical significance, not every single patient got better. How to identify the patient who will respond is the focus of our ongoing research."

Nevertheless, for most patients, it shows potential of improving their quality of life. But in order to be fully effective, it has to be further studied so they can observe how different patients, with many different factors and medical conditions, react to this new freezing technology to ease phantom limb pain.

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