Home-Based Tactile Discrimination Training Reduces Phantom Limb Pain

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Abstract

Background

Phantom limb pain (PLP) affects a high percentage of amputees. Since treatment options are limited, low quality of life and addiction to pain medication frequently occur. New treatments, such as mirror therapy or electrical sensory discrimination training, make use of the brain's plasticity to alleviate this centrally derived pain.

Aim

This pilot study assessed the question of whether home-based tactile discrimination training (TDT) leads to a stronger decrease in PLP levels compared to standard massage treatment.

Design

Controlled study.

Setting

Outpatient.

Population

Amputees (upper/lower extremity) with a PLP score of 4 or higher out of a possible 10 points on the visual analog scale.

Methods

Eight patients participated in the study. The treatment phase comprised 2 weeks (15 minutes daily). Subjects were examined at baseline, after treatment, 2 weeks after completing treatment, and 4 weeks after completing treatment. Pain was assessed using the West Haven–Yale Multidimensional Pain Inventory.

Results

There was a significantly stronger reduction in PLP in the treatment group receiving TDT. PLP intensity ratings were significantly reduced at the end of therapy, and at 2 and 4 weeks after completing treatment compared to pretreatment.

Conclusions

TDT seems to be an easy, cheap, time-effective, and safe method to achieve sustained alleviation of PLP and also brings about a positive change in body image.

Rehabilitation Impact

Home-based TDT could achieve a sustained reduction in PLP and should be considered as a possible alternative to established treatment methods.

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