One feels phantom pain in a limb that no longer exists. While you are learning to live without a limb, you may experience some serious pain.
What causes this significant pain from the missing limb?
Is it psychological or physiological?
Earlier researchers believed that the post-amputation pain was due to psychological reasons. It was perceived that the amputees felt pain because they imagined it. However, doctors now recognize this pain as physiological and identify the sensations in the brain and spinal cord as its causes.
What does phantom pain feel like? What causes it? How can you manage it? What treatment should you seek to alleviate this significant pain?
It is important to understand phantom pain to find ways to help you get through it.
Causes of phantom pain: The nerves present in the brain and spine cause phantom pain. These nerves in the spine connect the brain with the nerves present in other body parts. When a limb is removed surgically, the nerve connection from the limb remains intact. The brain fails to interpret the signals properly and recognizes them as pain sensations.
What does phantom limb pain feel like? The way one experiences phantom pain varies from individual to individual. Some feel a burning pain while others feel uncomfortable tingling or prickling. It may be temporary or may last longer.
Factors related to phantom pain: Clinicians associate some other factors that amplify the intensity of phantom pain. In case the amputated limb was aching before the surgery, you may feel phantom pain at later stages. This is because the brain recalls the previous pain and transmits the signals after the procedure. Amputees who feel consistent pain in the remaining limb are more likely to experience phantom pain.
What type of therapy works best for you?
Some therapies have shown favorable results to treat phantom pain.
Chiropractic therapy: Amputation of the lower limb causes back pain which is aggravated by sciatic nerve pain. It is caused due to irritation and inflammation of the sciatic nerve. The therapist performs a sequence of spinal manipulations (a technique that applies controlled force to the joint of the spine) that lower your back discomfort and relieve the suffering.
Mirror therapy: It persuades your brain that the limb is unimpaired. Place a mirror next to your normal limb and see its reflection naturally to get a perception of flawless limbs.
Physiotherapy: You need to perform different exercises such as stretching, strengthening, and massages that maximize movement and reduce pain.
Virtual Reality therapy: The therapist guides you through the therapy giving you an experience of healthy limbs. It reduces limb-loss stress and pain over time.
Behavioral therapy: The therapist recognizes the thoughts that induce your negative behavior (such as anxiety and depression), followed by building good habits and changing ways to deal with the pain.
Magnet therapy: Reduced blood flow results in phantom limb pain. Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a non-invasive process that sends magnetic pulses to stimulate the nerve cells in the brain. This stimulation increases blood flow and lowers the pain.
Ultimately, you may not have control over the phantom pain you feel. It may reduce, continue, or even aggravate over time.
However, the way you manage phantom pain plays a big role in overcoming it. You need to embrace changes, look for distractions, and perform activities that heal you emotionally and physically. It indeed is a matter of patience.
Don’t give up.