People who have had a limb amputated often experience phantom pain or sensation that seems to come from the part that is no longer there. Doctors and patients alike have known about this phenomenon for a long time. However, it is only fairly recently that medical science has begun to gain an understanding of it.
People who have undergone amputations may hold outdated beliefs about phantom pain. The following are some common myths that research has debunked.
1. Phantom pain is the same as phantom sensation
A phantom sensation is a feeling that the amputated limb is still there. Phantom pain is a type of phantom sensation, but not all phantom sensations are painful.
2. Phantom pain is inevitable after an amputation
While almost all patients experience some form of phantom sensation after an amputation, phantom pain does not occur as often. According to U.S. News and World Report, phantom pain may be more likely to occur following a traumatic amputation than one planned and scheduled in advance.
3. Phantom pain is psychological
While researchers do not yet fully understand the cause of phantom pain, it seems to be more neurological in nature than psychological. The theory is that, though the limb is gone, the nerves supplying it remain intact. Therefore, the brain has a hard time correctly interpreting the signals that it is receiving.
4. Phantom pain is untreatable
According to Saint Luke’s Health System, there are a number of treatments for phantom pain available, and research shows that they can work. Frequent touch or constant pressure on the remaining limb can help, so some patients wear a shrinker sock on the end of it for this purpose. Some patients benefit from electrical stimulation of the nerves from a TENS unit. Other patients take medications affecting the neurological system, such as antiseizure drugs. Sometimes the phantom pain improves by itself with time.