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Therapeutic Touch Helps Phantom Limb Pain
Rev. David Maginley writes: "But his leg isn't there! How are you going to treat it?" The nurse was curious but emphatic. As a chaplain who uses Therapeutic Touch as part of my pastoral care at the Queen Elizabeth II Heath Sciences Centre, it's always exciting to be consulted on a case where the staff feel Therapeutic Touch might help. In this case, another chaplain had called me in to help a man with phantom limb pain. The leg had been amputated above the knee, yet he complained of severe pain in the "missing" foot. Could Therapeutic Touch help? I was curious as well.
Therapeutic Touch and Phantom Limb Pain
by Rev. David Maginley
"But his leg isn't there! How are you going to treat it?"
The nurse was curious but emphatic. As a chaplain who uses Therapeutic Touch as part of my pastoral care at the Queen Elizabeth II Heath Sciences Centre, it's always exciting to be consulted on a case where the staff feel Therapeutic Touch might help. In this case, another chaplain had called me in to help a man with phantom limb pain. The leg had been amputated above the knee, yet he complained of severe pain in the "missing" foot.
Could Therapeutic Touch help? I was curious as well.
The elderly man greeted me with a smile that masked his pain, which he rated at 8/10. He had not slept in days, and this was compounded by the noise in the ward room. I was surprised anyone could get to sleep in this noisy room. Another patient seemed loud and angry, a third was constantly mumbling. There was a lot of energy in that room!
I explained the procedure, and he was 'open to anything that would work'. Drawing the curtain, I encouraged the nurse to stay and observe, then centred and began my assessment. In my hands, I could feel energy flaring from his the head and stomach which in my mind's eye seemed to scream 'stress!'
His leg was fairly neutral, until I reached the amputated area. There the energy flared out, with what seemed like a static charge down to the missing foot, where it seemed to be particularly strong. Immediately, I began clearing and grounding.
"Oh, yes, that's it" he said. "I can feel that. Are you touching me?"
I found the question fascinating, since there was no leg to touch!
I could see the patient quickly relaxing. His body sank into the mattress; his breath deepened and he gave an audible sigh. He was obviously experiencing relief from the pain. Grounding the energy field through his missing foot seemed very effective, the energy moving quickly through left side of his body and out.
Moving my fingers quickly, I pulled the energy out in strands, making sure to assist the flow as I stayed in touch with his field and let it lead.
"How's the pain now?" I asked. "About 3 out of 10." he replied. His voice was soft.
I continued to work for more ten minutes, and he fell asleep.
The nurse observing us was thrilled and amazed. "This is a lot better than narcotics!" she said.
Kirlian photography has demonstrated that the energy field remains intact in plants when part of the leaf is removed.
I have not seen images testing for similar results on humans, but the field around the area where his amputated leg would have been seemed intact as I treated it. A Kirlian photograph would be an interesting form of verification. I found there was a different quality in the energy of the phantom limb, or perhaps it was a difference in my perception. No longer clouded by the gross anatomy, I could clearly sense the field without relying on the body's form. Of course, this is no different from distant healing in which we simply visualize the receiver and honour their energy. Nevertheless, the patient certainly perceived his leg as he felt the pain flow away. He slept for the first time in days.
While discussing the treatment with the referring chaplain and nurse, I suggested the patient be moved to a private room. As is true with all chronic pain syndromes, stress and fatigue can magnify the sensations of phantom limb pain. Obviously the stress of the ward was contributing to this patient's pain, and for the Therapeutic Touch treatment to continue in effectiveness after I left, he would need a quiet place to rest. Sure enough, the disgruntled patient in the room yelled out and forced his way out of bed. My patient snapped to consciousness, and the pain returned.
Another treatment calmed him once more. A private room was arranged, and with two more treatments the phantom limb pain ceased completely.
This is consistent with the experience of Dr. Barbara Joyce, head of the graduate nursing program at New Rochelle College, New York. She worked with two women who had their legs amputated. She had attempted to reduce pain and discomfort in their phantom legs.
Dr. Joyce reported that "In both instances patients reported that Therapeutic Touch used in the field of the missing limb reduces sensations of itching and pain. Although more clearly with one patient, but to some degree with the second, I was able to 'feel' the phantom or missing limb and my estimation of its location in space corresponded with the patient's 'sensation' of its location."1
While the medical community strives to clearly explain this phenomena, there are a wide range of opinions. Pain itself remains a mystery, it's exact mechanics as much of a puzzle today as a hundred years ago.
Generally, phantom pain is understood to be "the result of sensations reaching the brain are identified for location on the skin by the homunculus, in the sensory cortex, which contains a representation of the entire body surface. It occurs in up to 80% of amputees experience sensations from mild irritation and cramping to burning and stabbing pain.
A large minority have episodes severe enough to interfere with work, sleep and desired social activities which occur frequently enough to require treatment. Phantom pain can occur anytime, from just after an amputation to years later."2
While the homunculus contains the memory of the entire body, this does not explain the patient's perception of touch and energy flow experienced in this Therapeutic Touch treatment, since the area treated was not neurologically connected to the amputee site. In this case, we must also consider that the patient could not see what was happening during the treatment. He was reclined in the bed. He eyes were closed, his head turned to the right, away from the left leg. He also reported feedback during the treatment, believing I was touching his foot.
While the physiology of pain remains a mystery, Therapeutic Touch is helping to widen the perspectives from bio-psychological models to an energetic one. In a paper presented to the American Public Health Association in 2000, it was concluded that "studies show Therapeutic Touch to be effective in the treatment of phantom limb pain. The results raise important questions about the nature of pain and awareness, and suggest that subtle electromagnetic fields may be involved in the pathogenesis and treatment of this disorder".3
The experience of treating a phantom limb was exciting and intriguing. I could distinctly feel the limb's energy field, and the difference in that energy after clearing and treating the area. The energy in the phantom foot was particularly pronounced, and this area was confirmed by the patient during the treatment. With the additional factors of actually being referred to the patient by a colleague in Spiritual Care, having the treatment witnessed by the nurse, charting the results, and having the treatment and advise positively affect his medical care, this was an excellent example of interdisciplinary coordination using Therapeutic Touch in a hospital setting.
1 Phantom Touch,. Sheldrake, Rupert http://www.transaction.net/science/seven/limb.html
2 Sherman, Dr. Richard A. "The Use of EIectromyographic and Temperature Biofeedback for Treatment of Cramping and Burning Phantom Limb Pain Clinical Biometrics Service Dept. of Clinical Investigation" Fitzsimons Army Medical Center Aurora , CO.
3 Phantom Limb Pain and Therapeutic Touch, Eric Leskowitz, MD, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Boston, MA. Paper presented at the 128th annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in Boston, Nov. 12-16 2000
Rev. David Maginley is a Therapeutic Touch practitioner with the Atlantic TT network. As the pastor of Peace Lutheran Church he has been researching healing and energy since 1993, and uses it regularly in his parish. He is also the unit chaplain for cancer patients at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, NS, where TT is used on request. He presented a Post-Conference Workshop at the 2002 Therapeutic Touch Network (Ontario) Conference in Toronto in November, 2002.
Submitted by Crystal Hawk - Toronto, Canada - www.therapeutictouch.com