What is phantom limb pain?
Phantom limb pain is a medical term that’s used to describe an unusual symptom felt by amputees. In short, patients who lost a limb may feel some pain and believe it’s originating from the removed limb. For a long time, phantom pain was believed to be psychological in nature; however, new evidence suggests that this sensation originates from the nerves in the residual limb and central nervous system.
What causes phantom pain?
The exact cause of phantom pain is not yet clear; however, scientists came up with two theories:
Activation of the central nervous system
This theory stemmed from observing electrical activity in the brain region that was responsible for the sensation of the lost limb. Even though the limb is no longer there, the brain’s electrical circuit may mix incoming signals, which activates the pain response of the lost limb.
Scientists who support this theory believe that once the limb is removed, the brain connects the nerves coming from other regions of the body to the cerebral area that used to interpret the signals coming from the ablated limb. As a result, the origin of the pain may be an existing part of the body, but you feel it coming from the lost limb.
How to stop phantom pain?
Unfortunately, we do not have curative treatment for phantom pain; however there are prescription medications and treatment therapies that can help reduce the severity and frequency of episodes. Please make sure you check with your physician before taking any medication.
Some medications can include:
Some treatments can include:
Massage of the residual limb
Use of a shrinker
Re-positioning of the residual limb by propping on a pillow or cushion
Mirror box therapy
TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)
Phantom pain can exacerbate the situation for patients with limb loss, especially if the surgery was done recently. The good news is that this pain can be handled with pharmacological drugs and treatments therapies.
If you'd like to read more information on Phantom Limb Pain, please click here to open a link to Amputee Coalition's resource on Phantom Limb Pan.
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