Phantom Limb Pain

Phantom Limb Pain

Phantom limb pain at first glance appears to be a medical condition that is beyond the realm of science. The condition develops after amputation and involves the experience of pain or other sensations that patients feel come from the area of the missing limb or digit. Often, persons with phantom pain feel very pronounced pain that comes in many forms. It can be described as throbbing, constant, stabbing, intermittent, burning, pins and needles, cramping or crushing.

What makes phantom pain a real condition is its prevalence. One study found that 59 percent to 79 percent of leg amputation victims suffered from phantom pain in the missing leg. Symptoms are also consistent. In addition, one theory held that phantom pain was more prevalent in person’s whose leg was in pain prior to amputation. Doctors, in response, have tried numbing the pain for a week or longer before the surgery is performed to remove the limb. With this, studies indicate that phantom pain comes after a scheduled surgical procedure can be reduced.

Psychological interventions and anti-depressant medications can effectively reduce these symptoms

Symptoms of Phantom Pain

There are two types of symptoms of phantom pain. One set of symptoms is the pain itself. The other is a set of psychological responses to the phantom pain.

The pain can come in the forms listed above. Psychological responses to phantom pain include:

–  Depression

–  Anger

–  Anxiety

–  Insomnia



A diagnosis for phantom pain is usually done with an interview with a physician. There are no routine medical tests to prove someone has phantom pain, although studies show that areas of the brain that were responsible for sensations in the limb that has been removed are active when the phantom pain occurs.

Pain Clinics

Pain clinics have three general styles of pain management. They include surgical, injections or treatments that are minimal to more intensely invasive. The second approach is medicinal, including the use of pain medication. The third approach involves rehabilitation through physical therapy, occupational therapy, exercise, diet, and other options.

To many painful conditions, not just phantom pain, talk therapy is also recommended. Responses to having a limb amputated can understandably include depression, anger, insomnia, mood swings. Psychological interventions and anti-depressant medications can effectively reduce these symptoms.


A wide range of treatment options is available for chronic pain with various degrees of success. These options range from pharmaceutical to physical therapy to lifestyle changes.


–  Over the counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium can be taken under a doctor’s supervision should they be required over a long term

–  Antidepressants including amitriptyline and nortriptyline have found to offer some relief

–  Anticonvulsants

–  Pregabalin (sold as Lyrica) can help with nerve pain

–  Opioid-based medications

–  N-Methyl-d-aspartate receptor antagonists


Alternative Treatments

–  Acupuncture

–  Spinal cord stimulation – sending high-frequency pulses to nerve endings to disrupt pain sensations.

–  Repetitive, transcranial magnetic stimulation – while not approved for phantom limb pain, this involves the use of an electromagnetic coil that targets specific areas of the brain with short electrical pulses.

–   Mirror box – use of a set of mirrors that are set up while an amputee is exercising the opposite limb. The mirrors enable the patient to look at the mirrors that make it seem as if both limbs are present. This has been found to provide some relief to those suffering from phantom limb pain.


Make a Call

If you are suffering from phantom limb pain, call the Sorrento Valley Pain Relief Center in San Diego at 858-215-5349 for more information or to book an appointment.

No Comments

Post A Comment

Contact us Today for a Free Consultation with Our Expert Providers. Customized Care, Amazing Outcomes!