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New surgery offers amputees better sense of 'phantom limb'

Researchers working with surgeons at Harvard Medical School say they have invented a new type of amputation surgery that can help amputees to better control their residual muscles and sense where their 'phantom limb' is in space.

This heightened sense of awareness generated by sensory feedback should then help people who lose a limb better control their prosthetic limbs and reduce limb pain, the researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say.

During the new surgery, called agonist-antagonist myoneural interface or AMI, surgeons reconnect muscles in pairs so that they retain the push-pull relationship they had previously, which improves sensory feedback and aids control.

Currently, in most amputations, muscle pairs that control the affected joints, such as elbows, ankles or knees, are severed. But the study found that reconnecting these muscle pairs, which allows them to retain their normal push-pull relationship, gives people much better sensory feedback.

The lead author of the study said that the better patients can dynamically move their muscles, the more control they will have. Importantly, the better someone can actuate muscles that move, for example, a phantom ankle, the better they will be able to use their prostheses.

The reason for highlighting this impressive study is to pass on good news to our clients who have lost limbs following medical negligence or, in cases handled by our personal injury solicitors, in accidents such as on the road.

We are very aware that our clients who have lost a limb face a traumatic and life-changing journey, affecting every aspect of their life and identity. Often, not only are they dealing with the original surgery, they then have to find a way to cope with the additional trauma of amputation.

I recently settled a case on behalf of a woman who underwent what should have been fairly routine knee replacement surgery at Epsom General Hospital because of mobility problems.

Unfortunately, post-surgery, doctors failed to notice clear signs that the woman was suffering from serious vascular complications in her leg (an occluded right popliteal artery) which resulted in an emergency above-knee amputation (trans-femoral amputation) of her right leg. Had the doctors reacted to the signs, my client would not have lost her leg.

Not only are my client's mobility issues now worse than before surgery, she also has to learn to deal with a wheelchair and prosthesis, which have seriously curtailed her previously active social life. She also suffers psychologically with PTSD and phantom pain.

Our specialist medical negligence team has assisted numerous amputees over the years, including transtibial (below the knee) and transfemoral (above the knee) amputees, and those suffering upper limb amputations of fingers, hands and arms.

You can read more about our cases here but, meanwhile, we will follow with interest further reports on AMI surgery in the hope that, in the near future, it will relieve some of the trauma suffered by clients undergoing amputation and its aftereffects.

Find out more about amputation claims here.

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