Phantom pain is described as the feeling of pain after a certain body part (specifically an arm or leg) has been cut off from the body. The degree of pain tends to vary from person to person. Though it is practically not possible and has been regarded more as a psychological problem, doctors have discovered that it might have something to do with the vital functions of the brain and spinal cord.
However, this article will focus on phantom limb syndrome, how to deal with it, and how to understand the important details that contribute to it as a condition. If you happen to have an amputated limb and still feel pain, you must discuss it with your doctor. Pinpointing the exact problem to a doctor or a health care professional will help diagnose the issue. In addition, since one can go through the same symptoms as phantom pain and phantom limb syndrome, giving the correct history will help your doctor develop an equally proper plan.
Therefore, let’s learn more about phantom pain and phantom limb syndrome.
Phantom Pain Syndrome and Pain
Phantom Pain Syndrome refers to the sensations that a person; who has had their limb amputated feels. The limb is missing, yet the pain is real and affects people accordingly. Most people who have their limbs removed claim that they sometimes feel as if the removed limb exists. They feel this way because the brain gets messages from the nerves located at the missing limb. Phantom Pain Syndrome or phantom limb pain is characterized as a medical condition. Patients suffering describe their pain as lasting for a prolonged time and that the prescribed medicine or treatment option has little to no effect on it.
Yet, the bright side for people suffering from Phantom Pain Syndrome or phantom limb pain is that it is manageable. Around 8 out of 10 people who experience this condition go through phantom pain.
Apart from phantom pain, there is another type known as Residual limb pain. If the patient is experiencing residual limb pain, that means the degree of pain afflicts the remaining area of the limb where it was amputated. Affecting around 7 to 10 people who go through limb loss, residual limb pain has a medical reason such as pressure on the nerves of that area and fatal nerve damage.
Symptoms of Phantom Pain
Being aware of the symptoms of phantom pain is just as important as getting to know about the causes. Most people have shared what phantom pain feels like. Phantom pain often feels like burning or aching, throbbing, stabbing or tingling. These symptoms could either be fleeting or continuous.
The pain is said to commence a week after the amputation. However, at times patients believe that the limb exists or is still attached and functions just fine. These are some of the main characteristics of phantom pain that portray themselves accordingly.
Causes of Phantom Pain
Now that we have an overview of the symptoms, Phantom Pain Syndrome and Pain, let’s discuss its causes and know why it occurs.
Phantom pain typically happens after a limb loss. Though the exact causes are unclear and not defined properly, it is said to result from some mix-up or emerge from the brain and spinal cord during imaging procedures – such as MRI and PET of the areas of the pain that are connected to the amputated arm or leg, display neurological activity when a person is suffering from a phantom pain episode.
Once the limb has been cut off from the body, ranges of the spinal cord and brain no longer receive any messages and thus adjust to it in its bizarre ways. Due to these attempts, pain is triggered as it is the body’s way of indicating something is wrong. Therefore, the brain tries to rewire itself and adapt to the new changes.
Several other risk factors are known to trigger the existence of phantom limb pain. People who haven’t had a limb removed can also develop phantom pain. Experts have claimed that people, who have had pain in the limb that has to be amputated, are most likely to feel it after the procedure. This is because their brain clings to the memory and keeps sending the pain signals, even after the limb has been removed. Residual pain limb, as discussed before, has phantom pain too. It has also come to notice that residual limb pain is caused due to an abnormal growth on the bruised nerve endings (neuroma) that tends to result in agonizing nerve activity.
More causes could be traumatic amputation, such as an accident, or the type of anesthesia used during the process. Nonetheless, some emotional factors come into play, for example, stress, depression, anxiety. Such factors can keep phantom pain alive.
Treatment of Phantom Pain
The treatment plan for phantom pain begins with over-the-counter medicines such as Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and others. Your doctor can even recommend antidepressants; however, it is important to discuss the dose and consumption of your medicines.
Another widely adopted option for phantom pain is non-drug remedies. Some of the options are Mirror Box-in this technique, mirrors are used to show that the limb still exists. This helps in relieving phantom limb pain. In addition, doctors use spinal cord stimulation to stimulate the spinal cord by inserting small electrodes (that pass a small current) to ease the pain.
Lastly, the risk of developing phantom pain is high if you’ve had your limb amputated; doctors recommend regional anesthesia days before the actual process. This reduces pain significantly and diminishes phantom limb pain.
Apart from the treatment plans mentioned, acupuncture, brain stimulation, and nerve surgery are available options that your doctor or a healthcare professional might recommend. It’s essential you know what you’re getting yourself in. Hence, it would help to talk to your doctor about all the variations you have been going through. Making the correct diagnosis will help you recover from your problem soon. It’s not a sign of worry if you suffer from Phantom Pain Syndrome. Since 8 out of 10 people have had their limb amputated, there will be an option that will fit your case. Hence, you must not panic and see your doctor immediately if you are going through any of the symptoms stated in this article.