phantom pain
phantom pain

Individuals who experience an amputation will most likely also experience a phenomenon called phantom pain. This is a particular type of pain that is felt below the level of the amputation and is theoretically caused by the nerves which are severed during the procedure, although the exact cause is not known. For decades doctors believe that this was a psychological problem but today researchers and doctors recognize that it is a physical situation.

Most individuals who have had a limb removed will report that they sometimes feel as though it is still there. This is a pain feeling known as phantom limb sensation and can also happen to individuals who were born without a limb. The sensations can include feelings of being cold, warm, itchy or tingling but should not be confused with pain. For many individuals the phantom pain will get better over time with out treatment but for others managing the pain is challenging.

Individuals who experience phantom limb pain will most often find that it starts within a few days of the amputation. The tendency is for the pain to come and go rather than be constant over time and it seems to come from particle area that is farthest from the body such as the foot in an amputated leg or the hands in an amputated arm. Most patients describe the pain as shooting, stabbing, squeezing or burning. Interestingly, the pain can be triggered by weather changes or pressure on the remaining part of the limb.

Some individuals report that the phantom pain will flareup as a result of stimulation or pressure on the stump. Unfortunately, this is the result of the prosthetic that will put pressure on the nerves which can cause phantom limb sensations. Pressure can also cause seemingly unrelated symptoms like nausea. Some people also report that pressure on other parts of the body, over the head or back pain can trigger a phantom sensations or pain.

As with most conditions pain will flare with a fever and illness. Stress, inactivity and anemia may also trigger feelings of phantom pain. It is still unknown why some develop this pain and condition and others don't but there are some factors which seem to increase the risk of phantom pain. Researchers have found that people who have had pain in the limb before amputation are likely to have it afterwards and people who have persistent pain in the stump will also have pain as well. Individuals who have a poor fitting prosthetic or who are not putting it on correctly may cause pain in the stump and also phantom limb pain. (1)

Treatment from this condition is varied and will range from massage to surgery. At this time there are no specific medications for phantom limb pain, although researchers and doctors have found good relief using tricyclic antidepressants, anticonvulsant medications such as gabapentin or OB is narcotics such as codeine and morphine. Individuals who use the narcotic medications must be monitored closely by their physician and the dosages closely controls. Those who have had a previous history of substance abuse are not able to use opiate narcotics to control phantom limb pain.

Tricyclic antidepressants appear to work by modifying the chemical messengers that relay the pain signals. In other words, the medication changes the neurotransmitters or blocks them from linking and being interpreted as pain. Antidepressants can also help individuals sleep which will improve their overall ability to tolerate and control pain. (2)

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation is another option used in individuals who may be candidates for noninvasive therapies. This device sends a weak electrical current into the body that may interrupt or change the pain signals before they reach the brain. It is safe and painless but does not work for everyone who has phantom pain.

Research from the National Institutes of Health has found that acupuncture is an effective treatment for some types of chronic pain. It is thought that the acupuncture needles stimulate the central nervous system to release endorphins which are bodies natural pain relieving substances.

Individuals who have difficulty managing severe phantom limb pain may be candidates for deep brain stimulation or motor cortex stimulation during which a surgeon will use an MRI scan to positional electrodes over the motor cortex. Although current data is limited, it is still fairly promising. Another surgical option is a resection or revision of the stump but cutting nerves which also carries the risk of making the pain worse.

Researchers also have three other treatment options currently in clinical trials to relieve the pain of phantom limb pain. Salon is an artificial limb which has motors controlled by electrical signals that sometimes results in reduced phantom pain. The other two options use imagery and virtual reality in order to trick the brain into believing that it is exercising the lost limb and therefore decreases the pain.

While phantom limb pain may be challenging and painful current research and treatment protocols are available to assist patients in dealing with this condition on a daily basis. Don't attempt to treat phantom limb pain on your own but instead seek the advice of a rehabilitation therapists or physician who is well-versed in the treatment plans and protocols associated with phantom limb pain.

(1) MayoClinic: Phantom Pain

(2) British Journal of Anesthesia: Phantom Limb Pain


RXList: Tricyclic Antidepressants

Journal of Neuropsychiatry: Management of Phantom Limb Pain

Neurosurgery: Pain management after lower extremity amputation

Recommended Resources
above the knee amputation Amputations, especially those above the knee, are caused by accidents, disease and congenital disorders. Approximately 74% ...
read more

arm amputations Amputation is a medical term used to describe the loss of a body part usually through trauma or ...
read more

artificial eyes The field of prostheses includes many different options for individuals who lose a limb or body part. One ...
read more

Below the Knee Amputation The word "amputation" is the medical term that usually refers to the removal of a whole ...
read more

diabetes amputation Diabetes is the leading cause of a foot or leg amputation in the United States. Because of the ...
read more

Foot Amputation Having a foot or lower leg amputation is a risk from several different environmental situations and medical conditions. ...
read more

Foot Prosthetic Following the amputation of a foot, leg or hand an individual will require the use of a prosthetic ...
read more

Gangrene Gangrene is the medical term used to describe an area of the body that has lost blood supply has ...
read more

hand amputations Amputation is the medical terminology used to describe the traumatic or surgical removal of a limb. This removal ...
read more

hand prosthetics The use of prosthetics has been around for thousands of years, dating as far back as the early ...
read more

leg prosthetics Individuals who experience an above the knee or below the knee amputation often believe that life as they ...
read more

phantom pain Individuals who experience an amputation will most likely also experience a phenomenon called phantom pain. This is a ...
read more

prosthetist A prosthetist is a person who measures, designs, fabricates, fits and services a prothesis after a prescription from a ...
read more

rehabilitation after amputation Amputation is the loss of a limb usually from injury, disease or surgery. In the United States ...
read more

rehabilitation after prosthesis Rehabilitation: to restore to use, as through therapy and education or to restore to good condition, operation ...
read more

Main Menu

website monitoring
above the knee amputation

arm amputations

artificial eyes

Below the Knee Amputation

diabetes amputation

Foot Amputation

Foot Prosthetic


hand amputations

hand prosthetics

leg prosthetics

phantom pain


rehabilitation after amputation

rehabilitation after prosthesis


Disclaimer: The Publisher has strived to be as accurate and complete as possible in the creation of this website, notwithstanding the fact that he does not warrant or represent at any time that the contents within are accurate due to the rapidly changing nature of the Internet.

This site is a common sense guide to phantom pain. In practical advice websites, like anything else in life, there are no guarantees of income made. Readers are cautioned to reply on their own judgment about their individual circumstances to act accordingly.

This site is not intended for use as a source of legal, business, accounting or financial advice. All readers are advised to seek services of competent professionals in legal, business, accounting, and finance field.

Any perceived slights of specific people or organizations are unintentional.

Home| Sitemap|Budget Hosting © All Rights Reserved.