A Guide To Post Limb Amputation Pain
Post limb amputation pain is a very distressing condition. Not only is someone recovering from major surgery and then coming to terms with the psychological trauma of having lost a limb, but they feel pain to a very high degree and often feel pain that is disconcerting because they feel pain where the limb was, even though it is no longer there.
Immediately After Surgery
Pain that is experienced after surgery is very common. In some ways this is part of the natural healing process. The body has experienced a trauma with muscles, nerves, even bone all being cut and the body will feel traumatised by that experience. There is inflammation in the nerves, tissues are also inflamed and the body naturally responds by feeling pain.
At this stage, the correct pain management has to be implemented, because if pain is effectively treated immediately after pain, then there is less chance of significant problems afterwards.
Usually analgesics (painkillers) are used throughout the immediate period following surgery.
Phantom Limb Pain
The pain that is referred to as ‘phantom limb pain’ is the pain that patients experience in the limb that is no longer there. This may not start immediately after the limb has been amputated, but may start a couple of weeks after surgery.
This pain is often very distressing for the patient, because on the one hand they know that the limb is no longer there, but they can feel the pain and so their experience of pain is at odds with what their brain knows about the limb being absent.
What Causes Phantom Limb Pain?
Phantom limb pain is caused by the part of the brain which was fed information by the nerves in the amputated brain. This part of the brain feels but does not think, so it has always felt the limb is there and so will continue to sense the limb there, even though it has been removed.
Recent research also indicates that after nerves have been operated on, including limb amputation, there is new nerve growth in the brain. This may also result in the sensation of phantom limb pain.
Residual limb pain can also be an issue after a limb has been amputated. This is pain in the part of the limb that is still there. So for example, if someone has a below the knee amputation, they may well experience pain around the knee area and is to some degree understandable, because the limb has been subjected to a huge trauma. This pain can be enduring and chronic, since there may be poor circulation or damage to the nerves that make the pain difficult to eradicate.
Individual Pain Management
Because of the wide variety of pain that may be experienced and the fact that sometimes phantom limb pain can cause distress to patients on a number of levels, there is no one single way to manage post limb amputation pain. Each person has to be evaluated as an individual and his or her pain managed on a continual basis, with constant monitoring and reviews of pain undertaken to ensure that it is managed as effectively as possible.