Phantom limb pain refers to pain and other sensations that a person experiences in the part of a limb that has been removed. Phantom limb pain is common among amputees and difficult to treat. It differs from stump pain, which is pain in the stump of an amputated limb by overuse or poorly-fitted prosthetics.
Phantom limb pain is not fully understood. It was originally believed to have been a psychological problem. Scientists now believe that these sensations originate in the spinal cord and brain and may be caused by a reorganization of the neural pathways inside the brain, following an amputation. The onset of pain occurs soon after surgery, as well as burning, hot and cold, itching, cramping and/or tingling. The patient may also feel that the amputated limb is being forced into an uncomfortable position. These sensations are all believed to have been what the person experienced prior to the amputation.
Treatment of phantom limb pain is challenging. The plan of care is created in direct correlation to the severity of pain. Treatment options include heat, nerve blocks, anti-inflammatory medication, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, spinal cord stimulation, massage, acupuncture, injections, surgery to remove scar tissue, as well as visual and thought exercises.