A new study has found that electromagnetic fields, like from power lines, can cause amputees great pain.
According to the Amputee Coalition of America, there are 2 million Americans living with some form of limb loss. The vast majority of these cases (54 percent) stem from cardiovascular disease, though trauma represents a significant portion at 45 percent. These individuals have to cope with many complications, according to the U.K.’s National Health Service, including slow healing wounds, infections, phantom limb pain and an increase in blood clots. However, there is another less obvious side effect that amputees must be aware of: electromagnetic fields.
A shocking discovery
The research, published in January 2016 in PLOS One, comes after years of anecdotal evidence from a number of amputees. Speaking with the University of Texas at Dallas, retired Maj. David Underwood said he’s experienced an unknown phenomena for years after his arm was amputated. Namely, he felt a surge of pain where his left arm should be every time he’s driven under power lines or when his cell phone began roaming.
To help Underwood and others better understand the condition, UTD’s own Dr. Mario Romero-Ortega, who teaches bioengineering, gathered input and stories from several amputees with no known preexisting conditions. From there, analysts conducted experiments with two sets of laboratory rats. The first 10 were given a so-called “sham treatment.” Meanwhile, the second group, which underwent a nerve operation to simulate amputation, were exposed to a radio frequency electromagnetic antenna for 10 minutes a day for eight weeks. Just four weeks into the experiment, 88 percent of the radio frequency group experienced pain compared to one rat from the control set.
The cause of the pain? It’s all related to the condition neuroma. The American Podiatric Medical Association explained this is actually swelling due to trauma or compression. Romero-Ortega said this evidence proves that neuroma doesn’t always have to be present to cause amputees’ pain as there are other factors at play. He said it also reveals that doctors need a new treatment method aside from neuroma recession, perhaps one that emphasizes prevention instead.
Onto the future
In the coming years, the UTD team hopes to develop measures to block out radio frequencies, aside from those commercially available products not suited for medical usage. However, this study also demonstrates that amputees must take special care of their wound sites. The first few days are doubly important following an amputation, and that means watching dutifully for infection and other issues with the stump and surrounding skin. There are other equally important steps in the long-term, like exercising regularly and cleaning your stump daily. Even what you eat can affect your stump and thus mitigate infections and other complications. You’ll want to eat foods rich in vitamin D, like seaweed, kale, broccoli and butternut squash.
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