|Aluminum foil is poised to valiantly charge into battle|
against Phantom Limb Pain.
(Photo from The Art of Aluminum Foil by Jane Hinton
and Hugh Oliver, General Publishing Co.,
Don Mills, Ontario, 1974 via this blog).
The article defines phantom limb pain (PLP) as any painful sensation perceived as originating in a limb that has been amputated. This is not to be confused with phantom pleasant sensations or real-life impulses coming from the part of the limb that remains attached to the body. I can't speak from experience but I imagine that would be kind of a tricky mental differentiation and extremely annoying.
Modern medicine has leaned on opioids, additional surgeries, and psych consults to treat PLP sufferers. The whole "wrap it in tin foil" idea originated from patients themselves as a do-it-yourself treatment/desperation move. Rob Minnee, obviously a fan of wives' tales and hearsay, decided to see if there was anything to this urban legend. After a battery of unspecified Internet searches (I'm guessing Google and Snopes.com), Minnee decided that this was a job for Science!
You can read all about the experimental design in the article - suffice it to say there was a pool of soon-to-be amputees who received all the standard surgical and post-op care with one group receiving a square of aluminum foil applied along with their stump dressings.
The results indicated that the foil group experienced slightly less PLP than the non-foil group (but take this with a grain of salt - the findings weren't statistically significant). Personally speaking, these non-significant results would be compelling enough for me to give it a shot if I was plagued by PLP, especially if I was under the influence of opioids. Scientifically, I think we can safely take away two key learnings from this article:
- Aluminum foil seems to have an endless string of practical applications.
- The truth is out there...