Phantom Limb Pain

Phantom limb pain occurs in an arm or leg following an amputation. It is pain in an extremity that no longer exists. This pain varies with different patients. Different activities may cause the pain. Some people with an amputated limb experience the opposite of phantom pain, which is phantom pleasure.

The trouble may start in a part of the brain known as the sensory cortex. The sensory cortex is the portion of your brain that processes sensations from the rest of your body. It is hypothesized that when a body part is lost, the corresponding part of the brain is not able to handle the loss and rewires its circuitry to make up for the signals it no longer receives from the missing extremity. The exact mechanism of how phantom limb pain occurs is not known.

The severity of pain seems to be correlated with personal problems such as stress and attitude. It also seems to correlate with the amount of pain a person had before the operation.

CAUSES

  • Damaged nerve endings.

  • Scar tissue at the amputation site.

TREATMENT

Phantom limb pain can be severe and debilitating. Most cases of phantom limb pain only last briefly. There are a number of different therapies and medications that may give relief. Keep working with your health care provider until relief is obtained.

Some treatments that may be helpful include:

  • Hypnosis and mental imagery. Their techniques can give patients the needed impetus to recognize their ability to regain control.

  • Biofeedback.

  • Relaxation techniques. They are related to hypnosis techniques and use the mind and body to control pain.

  • Acupuncture.

  • Massage.

  • Exercise.

  • Antidepressant medicine.

  • Anticonvulsant medicine.

  • Narcotics or pain medicines.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

Pain is not relieved or increases.