Phantom Pain

Many amputees suffer from phantom limb pain. This pain, which can range from mild to extreme, is felt in the portion of the limb that is no longer present. It is estimated that 60% of amputees experience episodes of acute pain, and 10-35% endure more severe and chronic episodes. Acute pain consists of short episodes of sharp pain, while chronic pain lasts much longer and can have a more debilitating effect.

New amputees often have phantom pain which can diminish over time and become less intense 3-6 months following surgery. Many times, restoring mobility by fitting the first prosthesis can be the catalyst for relief.

Phantom pain can come and go for years after an amputation, and can be brought on by changes in the weather, fatigue, and anxiety. The symptoms, causes, and occurrences differ from person to person.

This syndrome continues to be a poorly understood medical condition and has long perplexed the medical community. There is no clear understanding of the cause and unusual nature of the symptoms. Even though the brain is still connected to the nerves that once controlled the missing limb, the sensory inputs from that limb are no longer being transmitted. Clues to the cause of phantom pain may be found in the ways in which the neurological system adapts to this significant alteration.

Common treatments are heat, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), medications, biofeedback, surgery, mirror therapy, and tissue compression. Unfortunately, these treatments are often difficult and can be limited in their effectiveness. What works for one person may not work for another, so treatment usually requires a trial and error approach to find the most effective solution for the individual. If you are experiencing phantom pain, be sure to network and consult with medical professionals who specialize in this area as well as fellow amputees who have learned techniques that work for them.

Researchers need to gain a better understanding of the mechanism that causes phantom pain in order to provide for more effective treatments. Currently, mirror therapy and virtual reality therapy are showing promise where other treatments have failed. Over time a better understanding gained by research and the use of these new therapies can potentially lead to more effective solutions for everyone.

Successfully dealing with phantom pain can be a challenge. Obsessing on the pain can make it worse; the more focus given to the pain, the worse it can get. WillowWood’s recommendation for those dealing with phantom pain is to seek effective treatment, continue to stay busy, and avoid letting the pain over take your life.


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