Phantom limb pain is defined by the Mayo Clinic as a pain that you feel on a limb that is no longer there. In earlier times doctors thought it was a psychological issue but it has now been proven that the sensation is coming from the spinal cord and brain.
Phantom limb pain is most commonly associated with patients who have lost a leg or arm; however it can also occur after the removal of breasts, eye, tongue or other extremities.
Many patients report this pain lasts only a few months after the loss of the limb. Others say the pain decreases in how often it occurs and how strong the pain is during the first few months; but it never completely goes away. The severity of the pain and how long it lasts is different for all patients.
Another sensation associated with the loss of a limb is, telescoping. This is the feeling a person gets that the missing limb is getting shorter.
When a limb is amputated there will be pain on the remaining section. This is normal pain that follows any surgery. This pain will go away after a few weeks or sometimes a month. The pain felt in the missing limb is often referred to as a sharp or shooting pain. Others have described it as a burning sensation or achy feeling. The most common feeling is that the limb is still there. Other sensations reported are:
The exact cause has not been defined; however it has been traced to the spinal cord and brain. In MRI scans portions of the brain that had been connected to the nerves of the amputated limb continue to show activity even after the removal of that limb. Experts believe the phantom pain is a response to mixed signals from the brain.
Once a limb is removed, the spinal cord and brain do not receive signals from it and therefore adjust to this in unpredictable ways. The body’s most basic message when something is not right is pain.
It may be hard for your doctor to find a treatment for phantom pain. Normally pain medications are the first attempt and if this doesn’t work they may have you try noninvasive therapies.
The noninvasive therapies can include nerve blocks or electrical nerve stimulation. There is no specific drug designed specifically for phantom pain; however other drugs designed to treat other painful conditions have been helpful.
At Pain & Spine Center of Charlottesville, we have experience andtraining to provide treatment options for patients suffering from phantom limb pain. Call us today at 434-328-2774 to schedule your appointment!