What is Phantom Limb Pain? What Causes It?

Dan Zenas with a patient who has an artificial lower limb

Dan Zenas with a patient who has an artificial lower limb

One of the most frustrating situations an amputee will face after losing a limb is that of phantom limb pain. It is a very odd sensation– you feel that your missing limb is still attached to your body and moving appropriately.

While some patients of Georgia Prosthetics report this as simply a sensation, others report phantom limb as causing them a tremendous amount of pain from time to time.

In this article, we are going to discuss what causes phantom limb pain, how often it occurs in amputees, and a few treatment options you can consider in order to keep your phantom limb sensations in check.

What causes phantom limb pain?

At its most basic level, phantom limb pain is caused by the nerve endings at the point of amputation. These nerve endings continue to send pain signals back to the brain, even though the limb is no longer there to experience any real, physical pain.

This is very frustrating for an amputee, and in some cases amputees may also experience a tingling, cramping, burning, or a cooling sensation at the point where the limb was removed. These sensations are generally mild, and not as severe as the pain experiences.

How often does it occur?

While each patient is different, phantom limb pain is intermittent for most patients. As time goes by, the majority of patients report less phantom limb pain. In some cases the limb pain has actually subsided, while in other cases patients have just adjusted to the various sensations.

Is phantom limb pain treatable?

Many treatments for phantom limb pain have been proven as largely ineffective, however some patients do experience relief from drug therapy, as well as other therapies including:

  • TENS (nerve stimulation) therapy at the spot of amputation
  • Heat and cold applications
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Massage
  • Surgery to remove scar tissue from the amputation area that may be damaging the nerve endings

and more.

What should you do if you are experiencing phantom limb pain?

Georgia Prosthetics, located in Atlanta, GA helps patients with phantom limb pain. We may refer you to a doctor or ask you to come in and see us depending on the specific issues you are having. It is important to differentiate between phantom limb pain, and pain associated with a prosthesis that does not fit correctly.

For more information, give our office a call today, or contact us here.

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