New ‘hand’ may alleviate phantom pain

JENA, Germany (UPI) — Amputees suffering from “phantom pain” may get relief from a modified prosthetic that can convince the brain the body part still exists, researchers say.

Scientists at the University of Jena in Germany say phantom pain often lasts for years, and sometimes for a lifetime, often putting amputees at risk of mediation addiction from high dosages of painkillers, a university release said Friday.

Researchers say they’ve produced a modified prosthetic hand than can reduce phantom pain following amputation by using a stimulation unit in the hand’s cuff connected to the remaining part of the upper arm.

Modern prosthetic hands have pressure sensors meant to regulate the strength of grip of the artificial hand depending on what the wearer is trying to pick up, such as a raw egg or a hammer.

The stimulation unit in the modified hand takes feedback from the sensors and “talks” to the wearer’s brain, Dr. Gunther Hofmann of the Jena Department for Trauma, Hand and Reconstructive Surgery says.

“Our system is now able to transmit this sensory information from the hand to the upper arm,” Hofmann says.

Brain structures responsible for processing sensory information coming from the lost body part are “out of work” following an amputation and try to reorganize themselves, often leading to sensations of pain in a “phantom” hand, the Jena researchers say. By giving the appropriate brain structure sensory input from the “hand” it is meant to control, the reorganization can be prevented or reversed, thus eliminated phantom pain, they say.

Copyright 2010 by United Press International

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