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Home > Wellness > Health Library > Phantom Limb Pain and Chronic Pain
Phantom limb pain is pain that is felt in the area where an
arm or leg has been amputated. Although the limb is gone, the nerve endings at
the site of the amputation continue to send pain signals to the brain that make
the brain think the limb is still there. Phantom limb pain can be mild to
agonizing and even disabling for some, and it may lead to a lifelong battle
chronic pain. Women who have had a breast removed
because of breast cancer may also feel phantom pain.
experience other sensations such as tingling, cramping, heat, cold, and
squeezing along with pain. You can feel any sensation in the portion of the
limb that was removed (your "phantom" limb) that the limb might have
experienced before it was removed.
You may also have
residual limb pain or "stump pain" at the actual site of the amputation. You
may feel cramping, burning, aching, or sensations of heat or cold in the
Successful treatment of phantom limb pain may be
challenging. Treatment is usually based on the amount of pain you are feeling.
Many treatments may be tried and can include applying heat, massaging the area
of the amputation, biofeedback to reduce muscle tension in the stump. Other treatments that can be tried are
acupuncture, medicines (such as anticonvulsants and
antidepressants), and sometimes surgery to remove scar tissue entangling a
nerve. Usually, the best approach is to combine multiple treatments.
Other treatments may include
transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) of
the stump. Sometimes using TENS on the portion of the limb that is still
present can help with phantom limb pain. You may benefit from
physical therapy and use of an artificial limb
One treatment that is becoming more popular is mirror
therapy. For this therapy, you place a mirror so that the reflection of your
intact limb looks like your missing, or phantom, limb. You then look at this
"virtual" limb in the mirror. And when you move your intact limb, without pain,
your brain "sees" painless movement in the phantom limb. Mirror therapy may
help some people who have phantom limb pain. The studies done so far have been
small, and the results have been mixed.1
When other treatments have failed, electrical stimulation of the
spine may be tried to relieve chronic phantom limb
pain, though results have been mixed.
Moseley GL, et al. (2008). Is mirror therapy all it is
cracked up to be? Current evidence and future directions. Pain, 138(1): 7–10.
January 20, 2011
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Nancy Greenwald, MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
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