Aberrant activity in an intact residual muscle is associated with phantom limb pain in above-knee amputees.
Many individuals who undergo limb amputation experience persistent phantom limb pain (PLP), but the underlying mechanisms of PLP are unknown. The traditional hypothesis was that PLP resulted from maladaptive plasticity in sensorimotor cortex that degrades the neural representation of the missing limb. However, a recent study of individuals with upper limb amputations has shown that PLP is correlated with aberrant electromyographic (EMG) activity in residual muscles, posited to reflect a retargeting of efferent projections from a preserved representation of a missing limb. Here, we assessed EMG activity in a residual thigh muscle (vastus lateralis, VL) in patients with transfemoral amputations during cyclical movements of a phantom foot. VL activity on the amputated side was compared to that recorded on patients' intact side while they moved both the phantom and intact feet synchronously. VL activity in the patient group was also compared to a sample of control participants with no amputation. We show that phantom foot movement is associated with greater VL activity in the amputated leg than that seen in the intact leg as well as that exhibited by controls. The magnitude of residual VL activity was also positively related to ratings of PLP. These results show that phantom limb movement is associated with aberrant activity in a residual muscle after lower-limb amputation and provide evidence of a positive relationship between this activity and phantom limb pain.NEW & NOTEWORTHY
This study is the first to assess residual muscle activity during movement of a phantom limb in individuals with lower limb amputations. We find that phantom foot movement is associated with aberrant recruitment of a residual thigh muscle and that this aberrant activity is related to phantom limb pain.
Therrien, AS; Howard, C; Buxbaum, LJ
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