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Case report

Electroacupuncture for alleviation of phantom limb pain

Holly King, Max Forrester
Physiotherapy, HK Physio Limited, Sidmouth, UK.
DOI: 10.2340/20030711-1000063

Abstract

Phantom limb pain is clinically defined as the perception of pain or discomfort in a limb that no longer exists. Most amputees will experience phantom limb pain, which is associated with a low health-related quality of life. Phantom limb pain represents an important challenge in finding an effective therapy. The scientific evidence for best practice is weak, and is characterized by various clinical reports describing the pragmatic use of drugs and interventional techniques. Recent approaches to restore the sensory motor input have shown promise. One such technique is electroacupuncture. We report here a case study of a male in his 30s who sustained severe injuries, including a high transfemoral amputation, as a result of being hit by a car. An electroacupuncture treatment protocol was used. Over the course of 3 months, electroacupuncture alleviated the patient's phantom limb pain, minimized his use of drugs, and improved his sleep and quality of life. The effect of electroacupuncture treatment lasted for 3–4 months, and successful top-up treatment maintained his pain relief. The results are in line with a study comparing massage and electroacupuncture in patients with spinal cord injury with neurogenic pain; a limited number of patients treated with electroacupuncture were significantly alleviated of their pain for months. This case report suggests that electroacupuncture may be useful in patients with phantom limb pain.

Lay Abstract

Since phantom limb pain was first described by the French military surgeon Ambroise Pare in the 16th century, the number of studies has increased every year. Although many hypotheses have been proposed regarding the mechanisms of pain and many treatments approaches tried, there is a lack of successful treatments to induce long-term pain relief, improve sleep and quality of life in patients with phantom limb pain. A novel treatment approach used in patients with spinal cord injury pain is electroacupuncture. This case report used a long-term electroacupuncture protocol in a patient with phantom limb pain.

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