Phantom Pain

Phantom pain sensations are described as perceptions that an individual experiences relating to a limb or an organ that is not physically part of the body. Limb loss is a result of either removal by amputation or congenital limb deficiency (Giummarra et al., 2007). However, phantom limb sensations can also occur following nerve avulsion or spinal cord injury. Sensations are recorded most frequently following the amputation of an arm or a leg, but may also occur following the removal of a breast or an internal organ. Phantom limb pain is the feeling of pain in an absent limb or a portion of a limb. The pain sensation varies from individual to individual.

Phantom limb sensation is the term given to any sensory phenomenon (except pain) which is felt at an absent limb or a portion of the limb. It has been known that at least 80% of amputees experience phantom sensations at some time of their lives. Some experience some level of this phantom pain and feeling in the missing limb for the rest of their lives.

There are various types of sensations that may be felt:

  • Sensations related to the phantom limb's posture, length and volume e.g. feeling that the phantom limb is behaving just like a normal limb like sitting with the knee bent or feeling that the phantom limb is as heavy as the other limb. Sometimes, an amputee will experience a sensation called telescoping. This is the feeling that the phantom limb is gradually shortening over time.
  • Sensations of movement (e.g. feeling that the phantom foot is moving).
  • Sensations of touch, temperature, pressure and itchiness. Many amputees report of feeling heat, tingling, itchiness, and pain.

The term "phantom limb" was first coined by American neurologist Silas Weir Mitchell in 1871 (Halligan, 2002). Mitchell described that "thousands of spirit limbs were haunting as many good soldiers, every now and then tormenting them" (Bittar et al., 2005). However, in 1551, French military surgeon Ambroise Paré recorded the first documentation of phantom limb pain when he reported that, "For the patients, long after the amputation is made, say that they still feel pain in the amputated part" (Bittar et al., 2005).

Read more about Phantom PainSigns and Symptoms, Epidemiology, Pathophysiology, Management

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