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What is phantom limb pain?

Many amputees experience “phantom” sensations in their amputated limbs. Phantom limb pain can be debilitating and can happen in a continuous cycle or brought on by outside factors, such as changes in the temperature or stress. The pain is often most severe in the immediate months after amputation, but it can also reoccur much later.

Symptoms

Individuals with phantom limb pain describe the sensations as burning, stabbing or throbbing.

Causes

Possible causes of phantom limb pain include:

  • Memory of limb pain—Some researchers theorize that after a limb is damaged beyond repair, the brain is accustomed to feeling the pain.
  • Nerve bundle stimulation—The severed nerves around the amputation site either misfire or are stimulated in some way, sending a pain message to the brain.
  • Rewiring of the nervous system—Some evidence shows that when a limb is amputated, changes take place in the brain and spinal cord that cause pain to be interpreted differently than before.

Types of treatment

If you or a loved one has experienced phantom limb pain, it’s important to know that treatment is available. For instance, neuromodulation is a leading-edge treatment that can help with a number of nervous system-related problems. The main objective of neuromodulation is to insert a transmitter that helps to regulate nervous system function. The transmitter delivers steady and repetitive electrical stimulation to your nerves through wires that are connected to the transmitter. There are a number of neuromodulation techniques that may help patients with phantom limb pain, including deep brain stimulation (DBS) and motor cortex stimulation (MCS).

Your doctor will work with you to assess your specific set of conditions and recommend the treatment approach that is best for you.

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