What is Phantom Limb Syndrome?
Phantom limb syndrome is the pain sensation felt in the area of a limb that no longer exists (post-amputation). It can occur immediately after amputation or may develop several weeks or even years later. Phantom pain can be mild or severe and long-lasting.
Symptoms of Phantom Limb Syndrome
Many people feel as if the limb is still there. Other common symptoms include:
- Burning, piercing, crushing or shooting pain
- Cramping, tickling, and numbness
- Temperature change around the amputated limb
What Causes Phantom Limb Syndrome?
The exact cause of phantom limb syndrome is unknown. Doctors believe that specific regions in the brain and spinal cord ‘rewire’ or ‘reorganize’ after amputation. As a result, pain signals are sent in response to the lost nerve signals from the missing limb.
Several factors can also contribute to pain including:
- Cold weather
- Damaged nerve endings
- Blood clot or an infection
- Pain before amputation
- Type of anesthesia used during surgery
Diagnosis of Phantom Limb Syndrome
There is no accurate medical test to diagnose phantom limb syndrome. Your doctor will assess your symptoms and take a medical history. A physical examination of the amputated limb will be performed. Treatment options will be discussed depending on the severity of pain.
Treatment of Phantom Limb Syndrome
Your treatment plan may include one or more of the following options:
Prescribed pain medications are used to manage pain. Muscle relaxers, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants may be prescribed.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
TENS is a therapy that uses low-voltage current to relieve acute and chronic pain. The nerve stimulation may cause the body to produce endorphins, which are natural agents that control pain and inflammation or block pain signals to the brain.
Spinal Cord Stimulation
It is a procedure used for the stimulation of specific segments of the spinal cord through electrical signals, generated by a spinal cord stimulator. It is used for the management of chronic pain that has not responded to conventional modalities of treatment.
Improving your health by controlling certain bodily processes such as heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure is called biofeedback therapy. It includes meditation, massage, and certain relaxation techniques.
Physical therapy (PT) is an exercise program that helps you improve movement, relieve pain, encourage blood flow for faster healing, and restore your physical function and fitness level. Your physical therapist will examine your symptoms and create a specific treatment plan including manual therapy, stretching exercises, and other techniques.
Acupuncture involves the practice of introducing very thin needles into the skin to stimulate specific anatomical points in the body which have therapeutic benefits, known as acupoints or acupuncture points. Acupuncture balances the movement of energy in the body and helps in the restoration and maintenance of health.
Some people may require surgery to remove scar tissue, that would otherwise block nerves at the amputated region.
Wearing your limb prosthesis regularly will keep your limb active. It can also help trick your brain to believe the amputated limb has returned.