Pain Relief: Researchers Develop Bionic Prosthetic That Diminishes Phantom Limb Pain

With a new breakthrough in the field of bionics, amputees may finally forget about phantom limb pain with the help of a groundbreaking prosthesis, spotlighted in Science Robotics. This new prosthesis can not only restore the ability to perform daily tasks but also significantly alleviate chronic pain, heralding a new era in prosthetic technology and offering a beacon of hope to amputees globally.

Bionic Hand

Bionic Hand Credit: Max Ortiz-Catalan et al

Bionic hand: it “fuses” with the nervous and skeletal systems

Karin, a 50-year-old Swedish woman, could be called a “bionic woman” without really lying. After having her right arm amputated, she received her first robotic limb three years ago, which is connected to bones, nerves, and residual muscles. Her experience with this high-tech prosthetic was the subject of a study published Oct. 11 in the journal Science Robotics.

Read Also: Unraveling the Mystery of Phantom Limb Pain: Triggers and Therapeutic Options

Karin lost her hand in a farming accident more than twenty years ago. Since then, her daily life has been marked by uncomfortable prostheses and phantom pain. “I felt like my hand was constantly being put through a meat grinder, which caused high stress levels and led to me having to take high doses of various painkillers,” she confessed in a press release.

For me, this research has meant a lot because it has given me a better life.

Her life changed, however, when three years ago she was given the chance to become the first person to receive a bionic hand with an advanced human-machine interface. The prosthesis, developed by a multidisciplinary group of engineers and surgeons from Sweden, Australia, and Italy, is firmly and directly connected to bone. In addition, electrodes implanted in nerves and muscles provide an electrical connection to the nervous system. This technique, called osseointegration, was combined with “targeted muscle reinnervation surgery.” The surgery reorganized the nerves and muscles of the residual limb to provide more sources of motor control information for the prosthesis.
The study shows that this new prosthesis, worn for three years, enables the 50-year-old woman to perform 80% of the tasks she used to be able to do with her two hands. This allows Karin to turn doorknobs and cook food, among other things. She can also feel certain sensations in her artificial arm.

A decrease in phantom limb Pain

In addition to having better control over her prosthesis, Karin has noticed another major benefit after being fitted with the prosthesis. “My pain has decreased. Today I need much less medication,” she explains.

Professor Max Ortiz Catalan, head of neural prosthetics research at the Institute of Bionics in Australia and founder of the Center for Bionics and Pain Research (CBPR) in Sweden, says, “Our integrated surgical and technical approach also explains the reduction in pain, as Karin now uses the same neural resources to control the prosthesis as she does for her missing biological hand.”

Read Also: Researchers Develop a Neuroprosthesis That Can Convert Small Electrical Signals in the Brain into Understandable Speech

“By combining osseointegration with reconstructive surgery, implanted electrodes, and artificial intelligence, we can restore human function in a way never before possible. Lower elbow amputation is particularly challenging, and the level of function achieved is a milestone in the field of advanced limb reconstruction as a whole,” says Professor Rickard Brånemark, MIT researcher, associate professor at the University of Gothenburg and CEO of Intenum, who led the surgery.

According to Dr. Tapiwa Chebani of Gilmore Health “Seeing Karin regain not just functionality but also relief from pain, it’s deeply moving and propels us forward. This isn’t just about a hand; it’s about reclaiming a piece of oneself. It’s a glimpse into a future where medicine and technology intertwine to make miracles possible.”

Final Thoughts

Karin’s experience with the bionic hand represents a significant advancement in prosthetic technology, offering a new solution to phantom limb pain and functional limitations for amputees. This development, a result of international collaborative efforts, opens new possibilities in medical science, providing enhanced quality of life and practicality for individuals experiencing limb loss. Moving forward, the integration of such technology could redefine rehabilitative medicine, presenting new opportunities and challenges in the field.

Read Also: Hip Replacement Surgery: Types, Implants and Complications


Max Ortiz-Catalan et al., A highly integrated bionic hand with neural control and feedback for use in daily life.Sci. Robot.8,eadf7360(2023).



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