Understanding Phantom Limb Pain

“Phantom pain feels like it’s coming from a body part that’s no longer there. Doctors once believed this post-amputation phenomenon was a psychological problem, but experts now recognise that these real sensations originate in the brain & spinal cord. Most people who’ve had a limb removed report that it sometimes feels as if the amputated limb is still there. This painless phenomenon, known as phantom limb sensation, isn’t the same as phantom pain” [1]

So What Are the Symptoms of Phantom Pain?

Generally speaking, Phantom Pain comes about soon after amputation. It can take three to six months for a wound to heal after surgery. And although it is rare, the pain can return months or years later. Experts believe phantom pain results from a mix-up in nervous system signals, specifically between the spinal cord and brain

Symptoms include:

•Continuous pain, or pain which comes and goes
•Symptoms which impact the part of the limb farthest from the body, e.g., the foot of the amputated leg
•Feeling a burning, throbbing, crushing, cramping, stabbing or shooting pain.
•Having pins and needles [1].

Phantom Pain is Not the Same For Everyone

Over time, some patients’ phantom pain ameliorates without the need for treatment. Conversely, other patients have difficulty handling it. If you are in the latter category, then visiting an Experienced Pain Specialist with a strong history of treating this disorder, is the best course of action. They will review your medical history, ask you important questions, conduct an examination, and arrange for you to have an imaging scan, such as a PET (positron emission tomography), or MRI magnetic resonance imaging), as soon as possible.

Trying to Put a Spotlight on the Causes

“After an amputation, areas of the brain & spinal cord lose input from the missing limb, & adjust to this detachment in unpredictable ways. The result can trigger the body’s most basic message that something is not right: pain” [1]

Your Pain Specialist will also discuss various other factors which could be contributing to the problem. These include: wearing a poorly fitted prosthesis, having physical memory of the pre-amputation pain, scar tissue at the amputation site, and damaged nerve endings [1].

They will then draw up a holistic Personalised Treatment Plan, which will comprise various contemporary and cutting-edge treatment modalities. Your Pain Doctor will explain different elements about your condition and treatment, in easy-to-understand, layman’s terms. Further, they will also answer any questions or concerns that you may have.


[1]. Mayo Clinic (2021). ‘Phantom Pain.’