Coping with Phantom Limb Pain

July 13, 2017

60-80% of amputees have or will experience pain or some sensation in the limb which has been amputated, this is known as phantom limb pain. NHS Choices describes phantom limb pain as “Phantom limb sensations are when a person experiences sensations that seem to be coming from the limb that has been amputated. Sometimes this is just awareness of the limb, but it can occasionally be painful. This is known as phantom limb pain.”

Nobody really knows why this happens but the 4 main theories are:

1) changes in the sensory cortex of the brain following amputation;

2) a conflict between the signals received from the amputated limb (proprioception) and the information provided by vision that serves to send motor commands to the missing limb;

3) vivid limb position memories that emerge after amputation;

4) damaged nerve bundles called neuromas.

There is no known curative treatment for phantom limb pain.  However there are a number of treatments which may assist, and different things work for different people.  These treatments may be pharmacological, practical and non-invasive, or neuro-psychological.

Pharmacological treatment may take the form of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – such as naproxen, anticonvulsants such as gabapentin, antidepressants drugs which also control spasms such as amitriptyline, or other pain killings drugs such as morphine or local anesthetic injections.

Practical non-invasive therapies include new or altered prostheses, temperature treatment with hot or cold presses, massage or acupuncture.  Some people find a TENS machine useful.  Mental imagery has also had some interesting results, which involves imagining using their phantom limb and moving it in ways which reduces or limits the pain. Mirrors can also be used to assist by creating a reflection of the remaining limb, tricking the brain into thinking that it is receiving feedback from the missing limb.

In some very rare cases, where neuromas can be found to be responsible for the pain, they may be removed.

In conclusion phantom limb pain is often present after an amputation.  In most cases it will reduce or even disappear after a few years but in the meantime, support is available in both the public and the private sector to assist. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence has a wealth of material about treatments which may be available on the NHS to help assist with phantom limb pain.  If you have had an amputation and are now suffering with the effects of phantom limb pain we may be able to help.  

Here at Metcalfes we deal with all areas of medical negligence, including amputation. If you think that you or a loved one has suffered as a result of medical negligence or are concerned with the quality of care and treatment they are now receiving, we may be able to help. Please contact us on 0117 239 8012.  Alternatively, you can email us by using our online contact form and we will be happy to discuss your potential claim with you.

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Website content note: This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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Coping with Phantom Limb Pain

Gillian Clark

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