Cryoablation Promising for Phantom Limb Pain

ATLANTA — Military veterans wounded in combat, as well as patients with complex medical conditions, such as uncontrolled diabetes, make up a significant portion of those grappling with pain that seems to appear from an amputated limb.

Now, a study presented at the recent Society of Interventional Radiology’s 2016 Annual Scientific Meeting in Vancouver, BC, reveals that a pioneering technique might significantly reduce phantom limb pain.1

The Emory University School of Medicine-led study indicates that interventional radiologists applying cryoablation therapy, a minimally invasive targeted treatment using cold blasts, shows promise in improving the quality of life for patients suffering the mysterious ailment.

“Until now, individuals with phantom limb pain have had few medical interventions available to them that resulted in significant reduction in their pain,” said lead author J. David Prologo, MD, assistant professor in the division of interventional radiology. “Now, with the promise of cryoablation, these individuals have a viable treatment option to target this lingering side effect of amputation — a condition that was previously largely untreatable.”

For the research, Emory’s interventional radiology team treated 20 patients with image-guided cryoablation of the nerve and scar tissue in the residual limb. A probe was precisely placed through the skin and the temperature dropped for 25 minutes to create an ablation zone, shutting down nerve signals.

Seven days and 45 days after the intervention, patients rated their pain on a visual analog scale (VAS) that ranged from 1 (not painful) to 10 (extremely painful). Before cryoablation, patients had reported an average pain score of 6.4 points; by day 45 afterward, the average score was 2.4 points.

“Many of the nerves contributing to these pains are inaccessible to physicians without image guidance,” Prologo pointed out.

1 Prologo JD, Gilliland C, Edalat F, Bittman RW, et. al. Percutaneous Image-Guided Cryoablation for the Treatment of Phantom Limb. Presented at the Society of Interventional Radiology Annual Scientific Meeting, 2016 April 2–7. Vancouver BC.

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  1. Paul Zylich says:

    I am a below knee amputee with pronounced and frequent stabbing phantom pain in the end of my residual limb. Is there a list of physicians that perform this procedure. I am very interested in having this procedure to hopefully reduce or eliminate my discomfort.

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