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Keywords:

  • Phantom Limb;
  • Pain;
  • Motor Imagery;
  • Intervention

Abstract

Background.  Phantom limb pain is often resistant to treatment. Techniques based on visual-kinesthetic feedback could help reduce it.

Objective.  The objective of the current study was to test if a novel intervention combining observation and imagination of movements can reduce phantom limb pain.

Methods.  This single-case multiple baseline study included six persons with upper or lower limb phantom pain. Participants' pain and imagery abilities were assessed by questionnaires. After a 3–5-week baseline, participants received a two-step intervention of 8 weeks. Intervention 1 was conducted at the laboratory with a therapist (two sessions/week) and at home (three sessions/week); and Intervention 2 was conducted at home only (five times/week). Interventions combined observation and imagination of missing limb movements. Participants rated their pain level and their ease to imagine daily throughout the study.

Results.  Time series analyses showed that three participants rated their pain gradually and significantly lower during Intervention 1. During Intervention 2, additional changes in pain slopes were not significant. Four participants reported a reduction of pain greater than 30% from baseline to the end of Intervention 2, and only one maintained his gains after 6 months. Group analyses confirmed that average pain levels were lower after intervention than at baseline and had returned to baseline after 6 months. Social support, degree of functionality, and perception of control about their lives prior to the intervention correlated significantly with pain reduction.

Conclusions.  Persons with phantom limb pain may benefit from this novel intervention combining observation and motor imagery. Additional studies are needed to confirm our findings, elucidate mechanisms, and identify patients likely to respond.