FAQ’s on Phantom Limb Pain
What is phantom limb pain?
Phantom limb pain is when a person experiences the sensation of pain in a limb that has been amputated; residual pain can be as high as 80% in amputees and 20% in congenitally limb-deficient children. For amputees, this condition usually subsides around six months after the limb has been amputated, but in some patients it doesn’t stop and they continue to feel pain from the terminated nerve trunk (Pain issues and treatment of the person with an amputation 2013).
Who may suffer from phantom limb pain?
Anyone who has lost a limb, either through accident or surgical procedure: be it a finger, toe, hand, foot, or an entire arm or leg, may experience phantom limb pain.
What are the symptoms of phantom limb pain?
Symptoms of phantom limb pain can often include more than sensations of pain. Persons with phantom limb pain often also experience sensations of tingling, itching, numbness, coldness, or basically any sensation that could be felt if the limb was still present.
How is phantom limb pain diagnosed?
There isn’t really a specific diagnosis test for phantom limb pain. If you are experiencing pain after an amputation talk to your physician; they will ask questions pertaining to your condition prior to the amputation and note that you are experiencing sensations of pain from the amputated limb. If you have undergone an amputation and are experiencing sensations of pain it is possible that you are experiencing phantom limb pain (Influence of adjustments to amputation and artificial limb on quality of life in patients following lower limb amputation 2014).
There is the possibility that you may be experiencing residual limb pain, which is a separate condition. Residual limb pain is pain in the remaining portion of the amputated limb that may be painful due to nerve damage, reduced blood flow, or other causes from the surgical procedure or accident that may have damaged blood vessels and nerves in the limb.
What are the treatment options for phantom limb pain?
As previously stated, most cases of phantom limb pain will subside within approximately six months after the loss of the limb (Mirror therapy for phantom limb pain: Brain changes and the role of body representation 2013).. For those whose symptoms persist, treatment of phantom limb pain can often be difficult and it may be necessary to use multiple treatment methods simultaneously to treat the condition effectively(Long-term analgesic effects of transcranial direct current stimulation of the motor cortex on phantom limb and stump pain: a case report 2013). Some treatments for the condition include the use of further surgical procedures to remove scar tissue or residual nerve trunks from the amputation site.
Other methods include heat compresses, relaxation techniques, massage therapy, biofeedback therapy, physical therapy, use of a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit on the stump, spinal cord stimulation, deep brain stimulation, or other neurostimulation techniques (Spinal cord stimulators in an outpatient interventional neuroradiology practice 2013).
Other methods of treatment may include the use of prescription medications such as antidepressants, beta blockers, sodium channel blockers, anticonvulsants, neuroleptics, and pain relieving medications (Phantom limb pain: a systematic neuroanatomical-based review of pharmacologic treatment 2014)..
What can the patient expect from the treatments for phantom limb pain?
Most patients respond well to the treatments; however each patient’s level of relief will vary as different people respond differently to the medications and treatments used. This is why multiple treatment methods may be needed for maximum benefit. An example of this could be that one patient may experience relief from physical therapy, while other patient’s symptoms may be exacerbated by the physical activity due to the differing nature of their symptoms (Inter-individual difference in the effect of mirror reflection-induced visual feedback on phantom limb awareness in forearm amputees 2013).
Most patients’ phantom limb pain is a temporary condition, and although some patient’s may need treatment at first, the condition will usually subside on its own. However some patients’ phantom limb pain may persist, for these patients treatment can be difficult and ongoing.
If traditional therapy is ineffective and surgical intervention unsuccessful, it may be necessary for the patient to continue a regimen of medications for continued relief.