Phantom limb pain is pain that feels as though it’s coming from a body part that is no longer there. These are, in fact, real sensations that originate in the spinal cord and brain. Most people who have had a limb removed report that it feels as though the limb is still there, a phenomenon known as phantom limb sensation.
For some people, phantom pain gets better over time without help from treatment. For others, managing phantom pain can be a difficult challenge.
Symptoms of Phantom Limb Pain
Onset within the first week following the amputation, however, it can be delayed by months
Intermittent or continuous pain
Symptoms that affect the part of the limb farthest from the limb, such as the hand of an amputated arm or the foot of an amputated leg
Shooting, stabbing, cramping, pins and needles feeling, crushing, throbbing, or burning pain
Causes of Phantom Limb Pain
Though the exact cause is not definitive, experts believe phantom limb pain comes from the spinal cord and brain. Through the use of MRI and PET technology, the areas of the brain that had been neurologically connected to the nerves of the limb showed activity upon the person feeling phantom limb pain.
Experts believe phantom pain may at least be partially explained as a response to mixed signals from the brain. Following an amputation, areas of the spinal cord and brain lose input that they previously received from the missing limb, and in turn, adjust to the detachment in unpredictable ways. This often results in the body relaying its most basic message that something is not right: pain.