For people who have had a limb amputation, the effects can be both devastating and long lasting. One of these effects is “phantom limb pain,” which I will describe in a moment. Now it looks like there could be a new device that may help patients get past this pain hurdle and move on with their lives.
An amputation — the removal of a limb — can occur as a result of an accident or it can be performed as a medical intervention for people suffering from diabetes complications, a severe infection, cancer, etc. Phantom limb pain is a very mysterious aftereffect of amputation. Basically, the amputee will feel like that portion of the body is still there — feeling sensations ranging from tingling to sharp, infrequent pain to excruciating, crushing pain. For most individuals, this pain will diminish over time, until it gradually disappears. However, some amputees are never free from this strange yet real condition.
The true cause of these sensations in a limb that is actually gone is not fully known. Many people have been told that the pain is all in their head. However, there are some theories that could help explain phantom limb pain. Some experts say that the source of the condition is inflammation in the severed nerve endings, where the limb was once attached to the rest of the body.
It’s thought that these damaged nerves send confusing signals to the brain, making it think that the limb is still there, albeit damaged. Another more complicated theory suggests that the brains in these patients re-map the sensory input and output in the body, thus leading to sensations of an absent limb.
The manufacturers behind the device looked at in the latest study on phantom limb pain relief have a whole other theory — that electromagnetic interference from outside sources could be triggering the sensations in amputees. It might sound weird, but the German company Medi Ltd. believes that electromagnetic fields given off by electronic devices, power lines, and even the earth could irritate the severed nerve endings in an amputated limb.
In an attempt to address this problem, the company developed a revolutionary new product. It’s basically a big stocking with a silicone liner and a special covering made of a material called “Umbrellan” that fits over the amputated area. It’s this last stuff that’s supposed to block out electromagnetic interference and help end the phantom limb pain.
German researchers put this new product to the test on 30 leg amputees in a study lasting six weeks. After a two-week baseline period, the study subjects wore the silicone/Umbrellan stocking for two weeks, and then a placebo stocking for two weeks. Every day, the participants were asked to record their level of phantom limb pain, their quality of sleep, and overall state of well-being.
At the end of the study, the researchers found that the silicone/Umbrellan stocking led to reduced pain more often than the placebo stocking did, and to a significantly greater extent. Moreover, when wearing the electromagnetic-field- blocking product, the patients felt an overall improvement in well-being. Sleep was ameliorated at a similar rate with both placebo and silicone/Umbrellan stockings.
Whether or not this device works because it blocks interference from electromagnetic devices, it does seem to be effective. A lot more research needs to be done in order to back up this study and to understand the mechanism behind the stocking’s ability to provide relief of phantom limb pain.