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Guide Phantom Limb

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The vast majority of people with amputation report phantom sensations, often with pain. Now, an imaging study from two research centers in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil has pinpointed certain changes in functional connectivity — or how brain areas communicate — that can follow limb amputation. The changes occur in the sensorimotor areas, which are the parts of the brain that process touch and other sensory signals and control movement. The researchers found two main changes in functional sensorimotor connectivity.

One affected communication between the left and right sides of the brain, and the other affected only the side of the brain that lay on the opposite side of the body to the amputation.

Clinical aspects

The journal Scientific Reports has recently published a paper on the findings. Bramati, who is a medical physicist at the D'Or Institute for Research and Education in Rio, "have been investigated for years in those patients who report the phantom limb pain. The researchers believe that their findings will help scientists to understand better brain plasticity, which is the brain's ability to alter its structure and function in response to changing circumstances. At one time, many scientists thought that the adult brain was fixed and not capable of much change.

They assumed that while the brain underwent a lot of change during early development, it ceased once adulthood arrived. Today, however, there is a different view. There is now a "general acceptance" that even the adult brain can change in response to stress , hormones, learning, drugs, stimulation, aging, and other factors. These conditions can lead to changes in structure and networks in the brain, including the generation of new neurons and alterations to connectivity and biochemistry. Investigating mechanisms of brain plasticity could lead to new treatments, for instance, for psychiatric conditions.

Around 65 percent of the 1.

Alice In Chains - "Phantom Limb" Official Music Video

The researchers suggest that as many as 90 percent of individuals with amputation report phantom sensations. In their report, the authors refer to studies that have linked phantom limb to "maladaptive plasticity.

Phantom limb - Wikipedia

However, they also note that more recent research has challenged this notion. For example, one study found that, following hand amputation, there was increased activity in the associated motor and sensory area of the brain. Such conflicting findings suggest that phantom limb might not be due to straightforward causes and may perhaps even involve several factors.

For the more recent investigation, the researchers studied functional connectivity in sensorimotor areas in nine individuals with lower limb amputation and nine healthy individuals without amputations. The individuals with amputation were all experiencing phantom sensations in the missing limb part, but without pain. A previous MRI study by the team revealed that touching the stump of a limb amputation caused the brain to overreact.

Phantom limb

This investigation also showed that amputation appears to weaken the corpus callosum, which is a structure that connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain and allows them to communicate with each other. The sensorimotor area of a limb lies on the side of the brain that is opposite to that of the limb itself. The researchers found a "pronounced reduction" in functional connectivity between the two brain hemispheres in the individuals with amputation.

They also observed an increase in functional connectivity within the hemisphere of the brain that was on the opposite side to the amputation. In a variant of this phenomenon, supernumerary phantom limb, the patient experiences the presence of an additional limb. This has been reported in patients following a right hemispheric stroke. There has been no real breakthrough in the understanding of the pathomechanism or management of phantom limb pain during the past half century.

1. Introduction

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Home Contents. Jain is a consultant in neurology and has no relevant financial relationships to disclose. Originally released January 13, ; last updated January 6, ; expires January 6, In This Article Introduction. New therapies for PLP all involve trying to change the signals from your brain or spinal cord. As with any other kind of pain, you may find that certain activities or conditions will trigger PLP. Some of these triggers might include:. If you notice any particular thing triggering an episode of PLP for you, let your healthcare provider know.

Some triggers can be avoided — for example, you can prevent constipation or stop smoking. For other triggers, you will just have to understand and treat accordingly.


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You will not be able to prevent the barometric pressure from changing, but you will be able to understand that your PLP might be more severe on days with big shifts in the weather! Treating PLP effectively takes a multipronged approach. Medications of several different categories in combination with non-medication treatments seem to be most effective. For instance, if you broke your leg, you would expect to take narcotic pain medication, at least for a while. You would also elevate your leg and put ice on it. There are many different categories of medications that can decrease your pain.


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