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Phantom Limb Pain Symptoms and Treatment

Table of Contents

People who have had a limb amputated often report feeling moderate to severe pain in the area where the limb had been. For many people, this pain decreases with time, but the longer it goes, the more likely it is to stay.

Symptoms

The reason phantom limb pain happens is that nerve endings at the site of the amputation continue to send pain signals to the brain. The brain then believes the limb is still present. The condition was once thought to be a psychological effect of amputation and people who experienced this pain were thought to be grieving over their loss. The problem may have some psychological factors, but the condition is treated medically most often. For example, some researchers say that depression, stress and anxiety can affect the severity of pain experienced.
Pain is not the only sensation that patients may feel after an amputation. People may feel hot or cold sensations, aching, tingling, pricking, itching or cramps in the area where the limb has been removed. People who undergo surgery for a mastectomy or organ or tooth removal may also experience phantom limb pain. Phantom limb pain is a very real phenomenon and some experts say that half or more than half of people who’ve had a limb amputated will experience this pain.

Phamtom Limb Pain Treatment

Treating this type of pain is not always easy and may require a combination of approaches. These can include applying heat therapy, relaxation techniques, massage, biofeedback to lessen muscle tension, physical therapy, acupuncture, hypnosis, electrical nerve stimulation on the stump and surgery to remove scar tissue that has become entwined with a nerve. Spinal cord or deep brain stimulation may also work. There are different options for treating phantom limb pain with medication. Over-the-counter analgesics may work to relieve mild or moderate pain. Prescription painkillers such as opioids may be necessary for sufferers with more serious pain. Other medications which may be beneficial include: antidepressants, anticonvulsants, beta-blockers, neuroleptics and sodium channel blockers.

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