What Are Treatment Options for Phantom Limb Pain?

Most people who’ve had a limb or portions of a limb amputated report the sensation that the limb is still present after surgery. This sensation is typically painless and fades over time, almost like an echo your brain shuts down as you recover.

It’s estimated, however, that about 80% of people who undergo an amputation will experience pain in the missing limb that may be too significant to ignore. Once thought to be purely psychological, pain management specialists now understand it’s likely related to mixed messages from your brain to your sensory nerves.

The board-certified pain management specialists at Metro Denver Pain Management (MDPain) are well-known for their expertise in treating phantom limb pain. They use a multilayered, patient-first approach to relieve your discomfort and address your symptoms at the source.

Symptoms of phantom limb pain (PLP)

As unlikely as it seems, amputees often experience pain in a missing limb long after surgery. The symptoms produced by this phenomenon feel as if they’re occurring in the amputated extremity, such as discomfort in the lower leg and foot after an above the knee amputation.

Symptoms related to phantom limb pain (PLP) may include:

Although the limb is no longer present, the pain is quite real.

Causes of phantom limb pain

PLP appears to be related to the brain and spinal cord’s inability to adapt to missing sensory input. During imaging scans such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or positron emission tomography (PET) scans, taken as a patient is experiencing PLP, portions of the brain that were once neurologically connected to the nerves of the amputated limb continue to show activity.

Experts believe this occurs when areas of your spinal cord and brain respond in unpredictable ways to lost input from the nerves in the missing limb. That unpredictability may include triggering your body's most basic message that something is not right, which is pain.

Also, when the amputated area is no longer receiving sensory information, your brain may try to reroute the missing sensory structure to another area. Some individuals, for example, may feel PLP in a missing hand when they touch their cheek.

Treating phantom limb pain

The pain management specialists at MDPain take a patient-first approach to PLP, which includes extensive discussion of a treatment strategy designed to address your unique circumstance.

Your doctor will likely recommend activities you can do at home to help relieve your symptoms by providing a distraction from your pain, including:

Although PLP does not start as a psychological issue, it can greatly impact your emotional well-being. Individual counseling and/or joining a supportive group of individuals who can relate to your experience and provide encouragement can be very helpful.

Your doctor may also prescribe medications, including:

The specialists at MDPain may recommend a wide variety of other treatments that have proven helpful for relieving PLP. For instance, spinal cord stimulation, including dorsal root ganglion stimulation, can be a very effective treatment for phantom limb pain.

Other therapies our specialists may recommend include:

You don’t have to live with phantom limb pain. Instead, schedule a visit today with one of our experts at Metro Denver Pain Management. Contact one of our offices in Parker, Thornton, or Greenwood Village, Colorado.

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