The Psychological Aspects Of Post Limb Amputation Pain
To have a limb amputated is a major event. It does not matter if this is a planned event, where the patient can be prepared both physically and emotionally for the limb being amputated, or it is a sudden event where the limb has to be removed because of substantial injury or trauma. To lose a limb is an extremely traumatic event and one that brings with it all kinds of psychological issues, which can vary in intensity from person to person.
However, the trauma that the patient feels is not eased by the amputation, it is ongoing. Not only does the patient have to get used to life without that limb and undergo intensive rehabilitation in order to get back to ‘normal’ life again, they may also have to contest post limb amputation pain.
Some 78% or perhaps even more of patients who have had a limb amputated will experience some form of post limb amputation pain; so it is extremely common, but it can also have a psychological impact that is often overlooked.
Depression and Anxiety
Many patients who experience post limb amputation pain will also experience heightened levels of anxiety and depression. Some patients may simply experience greater anxiety, others depression, some will experience both.
In a way this is not surprising. The body has been through a trauma and the patient has to make major readjustments to their life, in order to live their life to the full. Yet not only do they have to undergo rehabilitation, they are also almost debilitated by the pain that is in a sense a ‘phantom’ pain, because the limb is no longer there, but it is causing them to feel painful or uncomfortable sensations.
This combination of readjustment and then having to contend with a phantom pain would make the most optimistic and relaxed individuals vulnerable to either anxiety, depression or both at the same time, so the increased incidence of these conditions is hardly surprising in patients who have had a limb amputated.
Historically many people were reluctant to talk about their post limb amputation pain because they felt that it showed they were somehow ‘abnormal’ which is far from true. As a result, amputees did not tend to talk in depth to healthcare professionals about the pain, which meant that it was not identified as a major problem until the 20th Century.
However, not talking about post limb amputation pain and keeping it hidden is not a good idea, simply because it can lead to the patient becoming isolated and as this isolation increases, so the instance of anxiety and depression can increase. So talking it through is important.
Recognise The Threat To Psychological Well-being
Obviously, any limb amputation is a last resort, with amputation being the only available course of action. But it is important that anyone undergoing an amputation (and their friends and family) all recognise that it is potentially such a traumatic event that it can threaten the psychological health and well being of the amputee. Careful treatment is required to ensure that the body is healed and the psychological aspects of the amputation and any post limb amputation pain are given attention and appropriate treatment. So if you are experiencing post limb amputation pain it is important to seek expert medical advice and not to suffer in silence.