Phantom Pain

After your arm or leg is amputated, there is a chance you could still feel pain from the area of the removed limb. This phenomenon is called phantom pain. Although it commonly occurs in arms and legs, it can manifest in other parts of the body that are removed such as a tooth, breast, or an internal organ. Another phenomenon called phantom limb sensation also tricks the brain into thinking that an amputated limb is still there. Knowing the differences between these two conditions is vital in finding a solution with your primary physician.


Phantom Limb Sensation

Phantom pain stems from phantom limb sensation which also produces a feeling in an amputated area. The difference between them is the aspect of pain. While phantom limb sensation is painless, phantom pain can be excruciating. Phantom limb sensations can include coldness, itchiness, and warmth in the amputated area. If you have these symptoms, you should pay attention to other signs to assess if it could be phantom pain.


What are the Signs of Phantom Pain?

Many people who have had a limb removed report that they still feel like the amputated limb is there. When there is no pain included with this feeling, it is known as a phantom limb sensation.
Phantom pain usually occurs within the first few days after amputation of a limb. A few other characteristics of phantom pain include:

  • Continuous or chronic pain
  • Pain felt in the limb farthest from the body such as the hand of an amputated arm
  • Burning or shooting pain in amputated area
  • A feeling that the phantom limb is being forced into an uncomfortable position

Many have also described this pain as an electric shock in the amputated area.


Causes and Treatment

The causes of phantom pain are still unclear. Medical professionals have deduced that it originates in the spinal cord and brain. Image scans such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) show that parts of the brain connected to the nerves of amputated limbs show activity when phantom pain occurs.

Treatment can include multiple medications:

  • Antidepressants – can modify the chemical messengers that relay pain signals
  • Anticonvulsants – can reduce damaged nerves to slow or even prevent pain signals
  • Narcotics – codeine or morphine may be an option for some

Treatment of phantom pain may require trial and error. Consult closely with your doctor before trying any medications.

Phantom pain is a phenomenon that requires qualified pain experts to assess. If you believe you may be experiencing phantom pain, contact Garden State Pain Control. Our pain experts can help find a solution for your situation.