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Phantom motor execution as a treatment for phantom limb pain: protocol of an international, double-blind, randomised controlled clinical trial

By Kirstin Ahmed

Phantom limb pain (PLP) is a chronic condition that can greatly diminish quality of life. Control over the phantom limb and exercise of such control have been hypothesised to reverse maladaptive brain changes correlated to PLP. Preliminary investigations have shown that decoding motor volition using myoelectric pattern recognition, while providing real-time feedback via virtual and augmented reality (VR-AR), facilitates phantom motor execution (PME) and reduces PLP. Here we present the study protocol for an international (seven countries), multicentre (nine clinics), double-blind, randomised controlled clinical trial to assess the effectiveness of PME in alleviating PLP. Sixty-seven subjects suffering from PLP in upper or lower limbs are randomly assigned to PME or phantom motor imagery (PMI) interventions. Subjects allocated to either treatment receive 15 interventions and are exposed to the same VR-AR environments using the same device. The only difference between interventions is whether phantom movements are actually performed (PME) or just imagined (PMI). Complete evaluations are conducted at baseline and at intervention completion, as well as 1, 3 and 6 months later using an intention-to-treat (ITT) approach. Changes in PLP measured using the Pain Rating Index between the first and last session are the primary measure of efficacy. Secondary outcomes include: frequency, duration, quality of pain, intrusion of pain in activities of daily living and sleep, disability associated to pain, pain self-efficacy, frequency of depressed mood, presence of catastrophising thinking, health- related quality of life and clinically significant change as patient’s own impression. Follow-up interviews are conducted up to 6 months after the treatment.