Phantom Pain

What is Phantom Pain?

Phantom Pain refers to pain that is felt within a body part that has been amputated.

It is thought that mixed signals from the spinal cord or brain are to blame for this condition. Even though the limb is missing, nerve endings in the area of the amputation keep sending pain signals to the brain, making it think that the limb still exists.

This pain could be extreme or mild, and the sensations will typically decrease or disappear over time. However, when phantom pain occurs for over 6 months, prognosis is poor.

What are the Symptoms of Phantom Pain?

On top of the symptoms of pain, other signs of phantom pain include:

  • Cramping
  • Tingling
  • Feelings of heat or cold

Put simply, any sensation that the patient would have been able to feel prior to having a limb amputated might still be experienced after the amputation in the form of phantom pain.

Phantom Pain Causes

Phantom pain is generally considered a neurological condition and its direct cause is usually nerve damage. However, this nerve damage can have many causes, which gives phantom pain a massive list of indirect causes. A patient with diabetes may develop nerve damage due to insulin resistance and this often leads to phantom pain. Similar paths to phantom pain can be seen in a number of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic erythamosus lupus.

Phantom pain may actually be the result of a number of psychological disorders as well. Hallucinatory disorders are known to produce physical sensations without the presence of a stimulus. In fact, tactile hallucinations are some of the most frequently experienced symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. It may also result from the use of drugs such as stimulants and alcohol. These drugs distort the receptivity of nerve endings and result in improper nerve signalling.

How is Phantom Pain Treated?

Phantom pain is hard to treat successfully. A doctor will prescribe treatment based upon the degree of pain experienced, and multiple approaches may be taken.

Treatment options include:

  • Relaxation techniques
  • Biofeedback that reduces muscle tension
  • Application of heat
  • Massage
  • Injections of steroids or local anesthetics
  • Surgery that removes scar tissue that entangles a nerve
  • Physical therapy
  • Nerve blocks
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation
  • Medications that include neuroleptics, antidepressants, sodium channel blockers, beta blockers, anticonvulsants, and pain relievers
  • Neurostimulation techniques

Phantom Pain Prevention

Preventing nerve damage will generally prevent phantom pain. Avoiding activities that may lead to injuring nerves is an important step to take. Running with scissors, jogging at night, and other high risk activities should be avoided. Since phantom pain may be the indirect result of a number of diseases, it’s very important to take steps to prevent these as well. Avoiding drugs and alcohol will also help prevent phantom pain. Regular visits to the doctor and general health habits will do wonders in making sure that one does not end up with potential precursor diseases such as diabetes. Another major means of preventing phantom pain is to keep active. Exercise is important in making sure the nerves of the body are able to avoid sending false signals. When you fail to exercise on a regular basis, the nerves may end up extremely sensitive or attempt to process inactivity as pain.