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Thread: For amputees, an unlikely painkiller: Mirrors

  1. #1
    Senior Member rdf's Avatar
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    Jul 2001
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    For amputees, an unlikely painkiller: Mirrors

    For amputees, an unlikely painkiller: Mirrors

    ...Paupore was flown to Germany, where doctors fought to save his life. He survived, but they couldn't save his leg.

    And he was in excruciating pain -- in the leg he no longer had.

    Dr. Jack Tsao, a Navy neurologist with the Uniform Services University, was looking for ways to help soldiers like Paupore. He remembered reading in graduate school a paper by Dr. V.S. Ramachandran that talked about an unusual treatment for amputees suffering "phantom limb pain," using a simple $20 mirror.

    The mirror tricks the brain into "seeing" the amputated leg, overriding mismatched nerve signals.

    Here's how it works: The patient sits on a flat surface with his or her remaining leg straight out and then puts a 6-foot mirror lengthwise facing the limb. The patient moves the leg, flexing it, and watches the movement in the mirror. The reflection creates the illusion of two legs moving together.

    Paupore was one of the first to give it a try. At first, he was skeptical. When approached about joining a clinical trial at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to test Tsao's theory, he declined. But sometimes his phantom pains were coming five to six times an hour and lasting up to a minute.
    "I was laying in bed and it just, all of a sudden, it felt like I was getting shocked," he said. "I called the nurse, 'cause I was like, 'What's going on?' " The nurse told him, "This is probably your phantom pain."

    Tsao explains it this way: "It's the sensation that the limb is still present, and phantom pain in particular is the sensation that the limb is experiencing pain of some form."

    That pain is intense, and often medication brings very little relief. For Paupore, it was relentless.

    "All of a sudden, it was like someone kept turning on and off the Taser, and my whole leg started twitching. ... I sat up, and I was holding on to my stump, and it just wouldn't stop. At that time, I was hooked up to the Dilaudid [a powerful narcotic], and I was pushing it. But you can push all the medicine in the world, and it won't stop it."

    After a month of treatment, all of the patients in the mirror group had significantly less phantom pain. In the covered mirror group, only one patient experienced a decrease in pain, and for half of those patients, the pain worsened. Sixty-seven percent of the patients visualizing their limbs got worse instead of better. The pain decreased in almost 90 percent of the patients who then switched to mirror therapy.


    Hopefully this will help amuptee patients with their phantom pain. I know I have it at my level of injury in many areas, as do probably most sci. It's the worst, and nothing helps. Maybe someday the sci will be able to trick their brains and neurons similar to what is described above. (I'm not an amputee)
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  2. #2
    My oldest son just explained this whole process to me! Maybe someday we will be able to "trick" the neurons. I can trick my leg into working. I just have to concentrate A LOT... but if IM In severe pain, ie.. my surgery, then it doesn't work OR if I'm talking and trying to do stairs it's disasterous... SO i avoid them at all costs...

    Anyways, great post,

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