Phantom limb pain may be greatly reduced through the use of a newly-developed minimally-invasive medical procedure, researchers report. This condition is sometimes experienced by people who have lost limbs due to an accident or surgery.

Cryoablation, subjecting body parts to extreme cold, was used to greatly reduce feelings of phantom limb pain (PLP) in patients. These "cold blasts" can ease discomfort, even in patients who lost limbs decades ago. Until now, there were few options available for people suffering from the condition.

Over 200,000 amputations are performed in the United States each year. Many of the people undergoing such procedures are military personnel wounded in combat, or patients experiencing diabetes and other potentially dangerous medical issues.

Patients can start to experience phantom limb pain at the site of a loss, or in scar tissue, soon after losing a limb.

In the new procedure, a probe is placed under the skin, where the limb once resided. The temperature within the area is then lowered for around 25 minutes.

"Many of the nerves contributing to these pains are inaccessible to physicians without image guidance. With the interventional radiologist skill set, we can solve tough problems through advanced image-guided therapies, and this promising treatment can target hard-to-find nerves and help amputees dramatically improve their lives -- all in an outpatient setting," said David Prologo of the Emory University School of Medicine.

Investigators studied 10 patients experiencing phantom limb pain, who were asked to rate their discomfort both before and after treatment. Self-reported pain assessment scores, rated on a scale from one (little feeling) to 10 (extremely painful), were recorded before treatment, as well as seven and 45 days following the procedure. These scores fell four points during that time from an average of 6.4 to 2.4.

Of the 10 subjects in the study, eight were women and two were men, and each patient was between the ages of 33 and 65. Each of the subjects tested experienced a degree of pain relief, and none of the patients experienced any negative health effects from the treatment.

Research into the use of cryoablation in relieving phantom limb pain was published in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology.

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