Pain and Phantom Limbs

Phantom limb pain is the feeling of pain in an absent limb or portion of a limb. Phantom limb pain can range in type and intensity and varies from person to person. For example, a mild form might be experienced as a sharp, intermittent stabbing pain causing the limb to jerk. An example of a more severe type might be the feeling that the missing limb is being crushed. Often phantom limb pain diminishes in frequency and intensity over time. For a small number of amputees, however, phantom limb pain can become chronic and debilitating.

A great deal of research has been done to explain what phantom limb pain is and its causes. Pain “memories” and pain “gate” theories are among the most recent possible explanations, indicating that whole-body “mapping” exists in the brain. Even when a piece of the body no longer exists, the “body map” remains intact and phantom sensation or pain can result when the brain sends persistent messages to limbs not there.

Techniques for alleviating phantom limb pain can be found in our Pain and Phantom Limbs booklet. The articles found in this booklet have been gathered from many sources; some are anecdotal. Our aim is only to provide information on some of the techniques available. You should discuss your pain management plan with your doctor or clinic team.

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