Late Breaking News
Military Medicine Comes Up with Novel Treatments for Phantom Limb: Pain Persists After Amputation
- Categorized in: August 2012, Battlefield Medicine, Department of Defense (DoD), Navy, Pain Management
Mirror Therapy Reduces Pain
“Our findings showed that mirror therapy reduced phantom limb pain in patients who had undergone amputation of lower limbs,” the researchers wrote. “Such pain was not reduced by either covered-mirror or mental-visualization treatment. Pain relief associated with mirror therapy may be due to the activation of mirror neurons in the hemisphere of the brain that is contralateral to the amputated limb.”
The only downside, according to that study, was that two participants were briefly grief-stricken upon viewing themselves in the mirror.
“Anyone can do it, even in the comfort of their own home,” Tsao explained. “After we published the article, we got emails from people saying, ‘I have had phantom pain for x-number of years. Can you tell me what to do?’ I typically send them a PowerPoint slide with a set of instructions, and I have gotten responses back saying, ‘Hey, it has been a few years, and my phantom pain is gone, thanks to the mirror.’ The technique is simple enough that anyone can do it.”
Mirror therapy is one therapy regularly offered by the military. Patients typically use a mirror for 15 minutes a day over a four-week period.
“It works fast. Within minutes, the pain goes down,” Gallegos said.
What Tsao likes about this therapy is that it is inexpensive — an inexpensive mirror works just fine — and it means those patients need to use fewer pain medications.
Mirror therapy does not work for everyone, he conceded, and its mode of action still is not fully understood, raising many questions: Does it work better for legs than arms or vice versa? What is going on in the brain to cause this therapy to work?
“We know that it works, but we don’t quite understand what is going on in the brain as to why it works,” Tsao explained, saying more research is being done.
Because no single treatment is available to alleviate amputee pain, including phantom limb pain, a multimodal approach has been important, according to Scott Griffith, MD, the pain management consultant to the Army Surgeon General.
In 2010, the Army released a pain task force report to standardize pain management in caring for troops. Included in the report is the need to incorporate integrative medicine modalities and a multidisciplinary approach to treating pain.
“Multimodal therapy is most important, not one medication and not one treatment, not one really advanced prosthetic device, but the idea that every patient is different,” Griffith told U.S. Medicine. “For some patients, there may be a medication that is a miracle for them, or maybe mirror therapy really helps their function, but … we don’t have a treatment that is effective for everyone. So one of the reasons phantom limb pain and amputation pain, in general, is still so prevalent is that there is still a lot left to be done to understand the very specific details at the nervous system level of how that process occurs.”
Related Pain Articles
- No Longer Just a Horse Drug, Ketamine Increasingly Used for Military Pain Management
- Ketamine Resets System for Normal Pain Processing in Complex Syndrome Patients
- Military Medicine Comes Up with Novel Treatments for Phantom Limb: Pain Persists After Amputation
- Expert Advice to Help VA Primary Care Providers Reduce Opioid Prescribing Risks
- VA Ahead of Schedule in Improving Chronic Pain Care
- More Opioid Prescriptions Adverse Effects for Vets With PTSD
- New Medications Continue to Revolutionize Opioid Addiction Treatment at VA
- Army Seeks to Take Back Prescription Drugs to Avoid Medication Abuse Errors
- Army Looks to Telehealth Project to Improve Wounded Warrior Pain Management