Guide to Phantom Limb Pain for Amputees

Unite Professionals case managers work with clients who undergo traumatic or elective amputations on their road to recovery, pain management and adapting to their new way of life. The goal is to work closely with the surgeon, specialist rehab team and Prosthetist to facilitate full involvement from the client on their rehab journey and goals in order that they reach their full potential both physically and psychology and to help both them and their families transition to the changes and progress the goals for rehab and lives beyond the acute period of adaptation.

One of the more challenging symptoms following an amputation is phantom limb pain – sensations of pain perceived in the part of the limb that is no longer there. This is not only uncomfortable and painful for the amputee, but also mentally exhausting as many people find themselves reluctant and uncomfortable talking about the strange sensation.

Phantom limb pain is educated on and managed with help from an experienced healthcare team.

Learn more about phantom limb pain and ways our case managers help support amputees experiencing this syndrome:

What causes phantom limb pain?

It is believed that up to around 80 per cent of amputees experience phantom limb pain. Everyone experiences it somewhat differently and it can begin and last for seconds, hours, or even days. Phantom limb pain can be described as a twisting pain, burning, itching, cramping, or tingling ‘pins and needles’ pain in the area of the body that no longer exists.

Therefore, the nature of phantom limb pain is much different than other types of pain and cannot be treated locally. It is believed that this phenomenon occurs due to mixed signals from your brain or spinal cord, which is where the treatment must focus.

Treatment of phantom limb pain

Each individual amputee will be recommended a tailored, multi-pronged treatment plan to help relieve phantom pain. This is often a combination of medication and therapies to interrupt the brain signals and reduce the pain. Psychological factors and mental health are also considered as part of the case managers’ process.

Depending on each individual’s pain treatment plan, and working alongside a dedicated team of doctors, physiotherapists and healthcare professionals, who could advise on the following types of treatments:

  • Determining the right medication(s) for you, including anti-inflammatory drugs, beta-blockers, muscle relaxants, opioids and/or antidepressants
  • Therapies like percussion, acupuncture, mirror box, electrotherapy, TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) and/or distraction therapy

This list is not exhaustive and there are constantly new methods being tested and implemented effectively.

Read more: Limbless Associations’ Phantom Pain Management Resources