Best Ways To Manage Phantom Pain

Best Ways To Manage Phantom Pain

Phantom pain occurs when someone who has undergone an amputation begins feeling pain coming from a body part that is no longer there.  Amputation on its own is difficult as it takes a very heavy physical and mental toll on the patient.  When phantom pain is added to the mix, it can greatly reduce a person’s quality of life.  While it is unknown what exactly causes phantom pain, there are ways to manage it.  Scheduling a consult with a pain management specialist is key to finding the best way to manage phantom pain.

Phantom pain is tricky because it originates in a part of the body that is no longer present.  In addition, to some people, phantom pain resolves itself on its own, while in other cases it does not.  While phantom pain typically begins in the first week after amputation, it can be delayed for weeks or months.  The pain typically feels like shooting, stabbing, or pins and needles sensations.  While it is unclear what causes phantom pain in some people and not in others, what scientists do know is that the painful sensations come from the spinal cord and the brain.  This means that the pain is not imaginary.  Rather, the parts of the brain that are responsible for feeling in the amputated region light up when the phantom pain occurs.

While it is not possible to completely cure a person of phantom pain, there are ways to manage phantom pain.  First off, phantom pain has been found to be more common in patients who were experiencing pain in the limb prior to amputation.  Therefore, physicians recommend some kind of anesthesia for the limb in weeks or months prior to undergoing an amputation. This is primarily aimed at prevention as opposed to pain management.

When it comes to pain management, most patients are initially prescribed various medications such as over the counter pain relievers, anti-depressants, anti-convulsants, or prescription narcotics.  While none of these medications are intended for phantom limb pain, they can be used off-label to treat the condition.  If medication does not work, alternative therapies such as using a mirror box, acupuncture, or spinal cord stimulation may be used.  If the pain is persistent enough and bad enough, surgical deep brain stimulation may be used in order to help with the pain.

At the end of the day, managing phantom limb pain requires a lot of trial and error.  There is not a single treatment that exists for phantom pain and therefore, a one size fits all approach will not work.  Working with a pain management specialist is the best way to find an effective form of pain management for those suffering from phantom limb pain.  A mix of various medications and alternative therapies are typically the best way to help those suffering from phantom pain.  Phantom pain is a very real condition and greatly affects the quality of life of the affected individual.  Getting specialized help is key to improving quality of life.