posted 2:59 pm Tue June 17, 2008 - WASHINGTON
Doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center have found a new tool to help amputee patients lose what they call "phantom pain".
Every night Army Sergeant Dale Cherney feels the sensation of sharp pins where his right foot used to be. "There's a stabbing pain or spiking pain that goes from one to seven on a scale of 10, that's not fun."
Cherney lost his leg in Iraq (webnews) last fall and his phantom pain began immediately. Recently doctors at Walter Reed started him on a new treatment using a full-length mirror. It's placed between his legs so when dale looks down, it looks like he still has both limbs. Every day for 15 minutes, he looks at the reflected image of his intact foot while trying to move his amputated foot.
"When they see the limb moving and they try to move it, vision seems to be overriding any mixed signals that the brain is getting," said Associate Professor on Neurology, USUHS, Dr. Jack Tsao.
Every patient using the mirror therapy in clinical trials at Walter Reed have had reductions in phantom pain.
"So, not only is the therapy inexpensive, we're able to save money and get people off medicine they don't need to take," said Dr. Tsao.
Army Sergeant Nicholas Paupore saw results within a week. Before that, he'd suffered from phantom pain every single day. "It would rush from where my toes would be all the way up the back of my leg," he said, "from back of leg all the way down to missing foot."
Now, Paupore is off his medications and has very rarely experienced phantom pain. "It's a process you have to go through, if you're dedicated it does work."
Army Sergeant Dale Cherney hopes it will stop his phantom pain as well. "I'm willing to do anything, if it works, I'll do it."
Mirror therapy is also being used for arm amputees at Walter Reed. In addition, a clinical trial is underway for double-leg amputees who use another person's let to visualize their missing limbs.