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Stem Cell Therapy May Help With Phantom Limb Pain

Stem Cell Therapy May Help With Phantom Limb Pain

Phantom limb pain used to be considered a mysterious disease, and many wondered if it was a physical problem or a mental problem. We now know that it is associated with the nerve endings that were removed and no longer are attached to the amputated limb. Stem cell therapy is being considered as a treatment for phantom limb pain because of its success in treating nervous system conditions.


What is Phantom Limb Pain?


Phantom pain is pain that feels like it’s coming from a body part that’s no longer there. Doctors once believed this post-amputation phenomenon was a psychological problem, but experts now recognize that these real sensations originate in the spinal cord and brain. Most people who’ve had a limb removed report that it sometimes feels as if the amputated limb is still there. This painless phenomenon, known as phantom limb sensation, isn’t the same as phantom pain. For some people, phantom pain gets better over time without treatment. For others, managing phantom pain can be challenging. The onset can occur within the first week after amputation, though it can be delayed by months or even longer. The pain may come and go, but can be continuous throughout the day.


Symptoms generally affect the part of the limb farthest from the body, such as the foot of an amputated leg. The pain has been described as a shooting, stabbing, cramping, pins, and needles, crushing, throbbing, or burning. The exact cause of phantom pain is unclear, but it appears to come from the spinal cord and brain. During imaging scans portions of the brain that had been neurologically connected to the nerves of the amputated limb show activity when the person feels phantom pain. Many experts believe phantom pain may be at least partially explained as a response to mixed signals from the brain. After an amputation, areas of the spinal cord and brain lose input from the missing limb and adjust to this detachment in unpredictable ways.

The result can trigger the body’s most basic message that something is not right, which is pain. Studies also show that after an amputation, the brain may remap that part of the body’s sensory circuitry to another part of the body. In other words, because the amputated area is no longer able to receive sensory information, the information is referred elsewhere on the body. Because this is yet another version of tangled sensory wires, the result can be pain. Several other factors are believed to contribute to phantom pain, including damaged nerve endings, scar tissue at the site of the amputation and the physical memory of pre-amputation pain in the affected area.


How Can Stem Cell Therapy Help With Phantom Limb Pain?


Phantom limb pain can severely impact a person’s quality of life because it not only reminds them of the amputation; it is not something they are able to quickly and easily relieve. Stem cells have been shown in animal models to reduce chronic neuropathic pain. It is now being studied as a treatment method for the nerve pain associated with phantom limb pain.

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