What is it, why does it occur, and what can be done?
Upon amputation, patients with limb loss report hypersensitivity in the residual limb, particularly along the healed surgical incision. This can arise from a combination of neuropathy, inflammation, and stimuli coming in contact with the skin. When the post-operative residual limb is in contact with surfaces and stimuli such as wind, water, fabric, and grass, the sensation can be overwhelming and painful. The limb can be sensitive to even the lightest touch – a result of nerve damage. This remarkably hinders the ability of patients to apply compression bandages, massages, prosthetics, etc. – all of which potentially improve patient outcomes.
As a result, the act of desensitization is often incorporated into physical therapy plans of patients with limb loss. Desensitization aims to gradually expose the residual limb to the new threshold of sensations it may encounter in every day life via:
Touching or tapping
Rubbing the site with fabrics
Applying heat or cold
Vibration therapy (e.g. TheraV’s ELIX)
A physical therapist may recommend a patient with limb loss to perform desensitization exercises at home – for example, 3 times a day in 15 min increments. The idea is to increase the intensity of these exercises over time, graduating to amplified pressure or abrasive fabrics as applicable.
While vibration therapy is most notably a pain management technique for phantom limb pain, it is also a known contributor to the desensitization of residual limbs and deserves increased awareness as such. Interestingly enough, in the complex network of pain experienced by patients with limb loss, desensitization may circle back and effectively decrease phantom limb pain in the long run. One explanation for this ties back to evidence that regularly wearing a prosthetic reduces phantom limb pain. The faster desensitization occurs, the sooner a patient is able and willing to wear a prosthetic, and the more likely he or she is to experience positive patient outcomes associated with such.
About Writer: Pranita Muralidhar
Pranita Muralidhar is a marketing consultant based in the Philadelphia area. She is passionate about health sciences, entrepreneurship, and connecting people with products that benefit them the most. By contributing to the blog, Pranita hopes to help raise broad exposure and awareness of TheraV ELIX.
Learn more about Pranita at pranitamuralidhar.com