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Freeze Out Phantom Limb Pain with Cold Therapy

    For many years, phantom limb pain has proved difficult to treat. As of this writing, there isn’t a single medication or treatment that demonstrated 100% efficacy against phantom limb pain. While we can’t fully treat phantom pain just yet, various treatment options are available to reduce the pain. One such treatment is image-guided cryoablation.

     Image-guided cryoablation or cold therapy is a promising treatment for reducing phantom limb pain.

    Cryoablation utilizes a cryoprobe, an extremely cold liquid or instrument, to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue. A probe is inserted through the skin; then, the temperature is dropped for about 25 minutes, shutting down nerve signals. And through radiology’s image guidance, physicians can locate and target specific nerves responsible for the pain.  

    A small study at Emory University used this cold therapy to determine how much it can reduce phantom limb pain. The details of this study are published in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology.

    The researchers studied 20 patients who had refractory phantom limb pain after amputation. Each participant was asked to rate their pain and then treated with cryoablation. The participants rated their pain from 1 or “not painful” to 10 or “extremely painful.” They reported their pain scores before the treatment, a week later, and 45 days later.

    Among all the study participants, the average pain score before the treatment was 6.4, while the average pain score 45 days later was 2.4, showing a significant decline.

    The success of the treatment can be attributed to radiologic technology. According to Emory University School of Medicine assistant professor Dr. David Prologo, the image-guided cryoablation therapy has made many hard-to-find nerves contributing to phantom limb pain more accessible to physicians. And all of this can be done in an outpatient setting.  

    Dr. Prologo added that cryoablation is a promising treatment option for phantom limb pain—“a condition that was previously largely untreatable.”

    Phantom limb pain typically starts weeks or months after surgery. The pain originates from the scar tissue and the nerves at the amputation site. Besides cold therapy, researchers have also seen good results with other treatments, like acupuncture or nerve stimulation. However, the results of these treatments depend on the patient. Some react positively to one treatment, while others don’t. It’s all a matter of finding the best one for you.