Surgical procedure helps patients with phantom limb pain

Many people who lose a limb develop numbness and phantom limb pain that's the feeling that the missing limb is still there and it's injured.

The pain can be so severe it prevents amputees from using prosthetic limbs.

But a special surgery is turning off the pain, or even stopping it before it starts.

Robert Haas lost his left leg to dangerous blood clots.

After the amputation, he had pain from the severed, disorganized nerves that even medication couldn't stop.

"Drugs can only mask the pain. They don't cure the pain," he said.

In phantom limb pain, the nerves keep sending signals to an area that's no longer there.

Researchers at Ohio State University have been studying the use of TMR - targeted muscle re-innervation for relief.

Amputated nerves are connected to a nearby muscle group, giving those disconnected signals somewhere to go.

Plastic Surgeon Dr. J. Byers Bowen said, "In some ways, it's somewhat tricking the brain into saying, well, the amputated foot is still there, because the nerve that was going to the foot now has something to do again."

When TMR was done at the time of amputation, the results were dramatic.

"By 3 months, we're noticing that only about a third of our patients will have phantom limb pain. By 6 months, less than 20% of our patients will have limb pain. By a year, we're down to 10%," said Dr. Bowen.

TMR also offers significant relief years after amputations.

Haas says his pain was gone when he woke up after surgery.

"I can go out, I can play sledge hockey, and I can do recumbent bikes. I can do all those sports that were going to be denied to me," he said.

And many patients are able to come off pain medication which also helps improve their quality of life.

The doctors at Ohio State are giving lectures around the world. They're hoping more surgeons practice this procedure to help more people find relief.

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