Amputees may experience phantom pain, which is a painful sensation in the location where the amputated limb used to be. New research suggests, a freezing technique may help ease this pain, which can be quite debilitating.
The freezing technique, known as cryoablation therapy, can help offer pain relief for nearly 200,000 Americans who undergo an amputation annually. Majority of these patients are military veterans or diabetics, and they experience what is known as phantom pain, which is a disorientation of the nervous system after losing a limb.
So far, the researchers tested cryoablation therapy on 20 patients and have found this technique to be successful in reducing phantom limb pain.
Lead author Dr. J. David Prologo said, “Many things are tried to see if it may or may not work,” – such as psychological counseling, mind-body relaxation narcotics, antidepressants, and visual therapies. Surgery may also be an option as a means to remove severely damaged nerves. And even with all of these treatment options in place, “the rate and severity of phantom limb pain in patients today are equal to the rate and severity of patients from 50 years ago,” added Prologo.
Freezing techniques like cryoblation therapy target the underlying nerve problems. For the study, a needle was inserted at the point of the lost limb and the local nerves were exposed to 25 minutes of cold blasts. After 45 days of the treatment, the average pain scores on a scale from one to 10 changed from 6.4 pre-freezing down to 2.4 post-freezing.
The process still needs to be approved by the American Medical Association, but these efforts are underway. Prologo added, “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.”
Dustin Tyler, a biomedical engineer at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, added, “Phantom pain is very complex [but] guided cryoablation is an interesting alternative to surgical intervention.”
Long-term follow-ups are still required to determine the success of nerve freezing to treat phantom pain.