What Is Phantom Pain And How Is It Treated?

What Is Phantom Pain And How Is It Treated?

Phantom pain is a very real symptom and can occur after a person has had a limb amputated.  Undergoing an amputation of any limb, whether planned or due to an accident, is a life-changing experience.  As a result, many people go through a period shortly after amputation, where they feel the limb is still attached or present.  This, on its own, is little cause for concern, as it is normal for the body to take time to adjust to its new normal.  However, when the sensation of the limb still being present comes with pain, it can cause significant issues for the patient down the road.

Phantom pain can be debilitating and cause issues with wound care after amputation or even cause problems with fitting a prosthesis down the road.  Pain is a unique experience for each person, which can make it difficult to diagnose properly and treat.  In some cases, people experiencing phantom pain find their painful symptoms resolve on their own without treatment over time.  However, for other patients, they find their symptoms are continuous, greatly decreasing their quality of life.  In these cases, working with a pain specialist may be necessary to determine the best treatment for the painful symptoms.

Phantom pain used to be diagnosed as a psychological problem.  However, that has since been disproved through a plethora of research.  Currently, phantom pain is thought to be caused by the brain and spinal cord, which had been neurologically connected to the amputated limb.  Because these parts of the brain and spinal cord lose connection to the limb abruptly, they begin sending out signals that something is wrong, which can come in the form of pain.

Finding an adequate treatment for a patient who is experiencing phantom pain can be very difficult and usually requires a good amount of trial and error.  A variety of medications, nerve blocks, and spinal cord stimulation are often able to help those suffering from phantom pain.  However, each patient with phantom pain is seen as a unique case and may respond differently to treatments.  Because phantom pain is such a complicated and little understood condition, working with a pain specialist is absolutely necessary in order to get the best results from treatment.  Getting the pain under control as quickly as possible is vital for the rehabilitation that follows amputation.

Amputation is already a difficult situation to adapt to, whether it was a planned amputation due to diabetes, or an unplanned amputation caused by an accident.  Phantom pain makes the recovery process even more difficult.  Patients who undergo an amputation typically go through months of rehabilitation and physical therapy.  However, this process can be greatly delayed when the patient is suffering from phantom pain.  While some cases of phantom pain can resolve on their own, many require the attention of a pain specialist.  Working with a pain specialist to determine an adequate treatment plan for those suffering from phantom pain can significantly help improve a patient’s quality of life post-amputation.

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