Virtual massage could help amputees

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London, Mar 20 (UNI) Virtual massage could give relief to amputees who experience strange phantom limb pains, scientists said.

More than half of the people who have had limbs amputated report sensations that feel as if their missing limbs are still attached and most say these are painful.

Researchers found combat veteran amputees who watched other people rubbing their limbs gained relief from such pain.

The potential treatment was discovered by scientists working on ''mirror neurons''-- brain cells that are activated both when a person performs an action and when they observe someone else moving in the same way.

The Daily Telegraph quoted neurologist Vilayanur Ramachandran of the Centre for Brain and Cognition at the University of California as saying, ''Such cells tell the brain: 'I feel your touch in some abstract way but not in a literal sense'. This mechanism allows you to simultaneously empathise and recognise that someone else is being touched and think you are being touched yourself.'' Prof Ramachandran asked amputees with just one arm or hand to stand sideways on to a mirror in order to create the illusion that they had two of the limbs.

Those who watched their normal hand being touched reported feeling as if their missing hands were also being touched and others who watched volunteers' limbs being stroked, experienced the sensation of their missing limbs being stroked.

One subject reported that watching a volunteer rubbing her hand caused cramp that felt as if it came from their missing hand to cease.

Prof Ramachandran said, ''If you do it often enough perhaps this pain will go away for good. If an amputee experiences pain in their missing limb, they could watch a friend or partner rub their hand to get rid of it.'' Massaging the skin helps relieve pain by restoring blood flow and activating sensory fibres, which inhibit pain messages to the brain and the ''virtual massage'' reduces pain by activating these fibres.

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