It is hard to imagine what it would be like to lose part of your body.  Many people struggle with the initial physical pain, the emotional pain of losing part of their body, and then some people have to deal with pain after the injured body part has been removed – this is also known as “phantom pain” or “phantom sensations.”

The following are excerpts from discussing phantom pain and some tips for coping and reducing the pain.shutterstock_126321011

“As the name implies, phantom pain has mysterious origins and is not well understood by scientists. One prevalent theory centers on the concept of brain reorganization. This theory looks at how the brain loses input from certain nerves following amputation. Later, the neurons are reactivated and respond to input from the remaining nerves. Pressure on the residual limb might trigger a response in the part of the brain that previously responded to nerves in the missing limb, triggering sensations that are felt as if they were in the missing limb. Researchers have also shown that, if those parts of the brain are stimulated with electrodes, the amputee feels sensation in their missing limb.”

“Phantom pain varies and may feel like cramping, aching, burning, or a shock-like sensation. Stress, anxiety, fear, or fatigue will usually increase the person’s discomfort. There are many different types of therapies that attempt to relieve this pain, including acupuncture, biofeedback, chiropractic, and complicated surgical procedures. It is a good idea for people to keep a log of when the pain occurs and try to identify and eliminate any triggers they might discover. People should not hesitate to talk to their prosthetist or physician about phantom pain and how best to treat it.”

Here are some techniques our patients have used to reduce or alleviate phantom pain:

  • Wrapping the residual limb in a warm, soft towel
  • Wrapping the residual limb with a heating pad
  • Wrapping the residual limb in a cold pack or applying a cooling cream or gel
  • Mentally exercising the missing limb in the area where the pain occurs
  • Mentally relaxing the missing limb and the residual limb
  • Tightening the muscles in the residual limb and slowly releasing them
  • Applying an elastic/Ace bandage or shrinker
  • For people with a prosthesis, putting it on and taking a short walk
  • Taking off the prosthesis if pain is experienced while wearing it
  • Changing position, moving around, or standing up
  • Soaking in a warm bath or using the shower to massage the residual limb. Massaging the residual limb with both hands
  • Trying natural supplements including juniper berry, grape seed extract, vitamin E, vitamin A, B12, potassium, calcium, and magnesium
  • Unfortunately, research indicates that some people who experienced pain in a limb before amputation also appear to be at greater risk of developing phantom pain after its removal.

“On a positive note, many people find that phantom pain and sensations are reduced once they are fit with a prosthesis and begin wearing it regularly.”