Despite its “ghostly” connotation, phantom sensation is most certainly a realistic, tangible event experienced by millions of amputees world wide.
Whilst the debate over what causes phantom pain continue, the debate often overshadows the bottom line: Amputees are in pain because of it.
Phantom sensation is usually experienced by most amputees at one time or another. Some of us are blessed with very little exposure to the “unpleasantries” of phantom sensation, some experience severe pain on a daily basis.
Phantom sensation is not just the feeling of having a limb when no limb is present (which usually goes away). It is a term used for any sensation or pain originating from a residual (stump) limb.
Phantom sensation can range from tingling sensations to severe sharp, stabbing pain that can only be controlled via professional pain management.
What causes phantom pain.
The debate over what causes phantom pain rages on.
Here are the some of the “suggested” causes of phantom pain (the list is compiled from suggested causes discussed by amputees via the amputee listserv).
1. Prior experience with pain prior to amputation – If you have had continued pain with joints or muscles etc prior to amputation, this
is thought to have a “phantom” effect post amputation.
2. Incorrect surgical procedure – Unless you live in a heavily populated area or in a part of the world that has a high population of
amputees, chances are your surgeon (especially if traumatic amputation) may not be wholly experienced in post-traumatic
amputations. Whilst it is somewhat unfair to point the finger for such things at the inexperienced surgeon (at least your life was
saved);incorrect surgical procedures have caused some amputees problems for many years after the original trauma.
3. Climatic conditions – Sorry can’t blame anyone for this one ! Changes in weather, particularly related to changes in air pressure
and tempreture can dramatically affect levels of phantom pain. Other than moving to a different climate this is a hard one to avoid.
4. Stress – The cause of just about every ailment known ! Stressful lifestyles lead to kinds of ailments and if your an amputee,
phantom pain is just another to add to the list.
5. Inactivity – Remaining in a relatively same position for long periods of time. Office workers especially, poor posture really helps
bring on those phantoms. Make sure you are sat in the best possible position to keep blood flow to the amputated limb to a maximum.
6. Periodic illness – Colds, flu, strep throat, infections, virus’es can increase the level of phantom sensation, sometimes to
unbearable levels. This is particularly noticeable for people who only notice phantom pain when ill. Not much you can do except
either pump your self full of drugs and sit this out. But don’t wait too long, 48 hours of constant phantom pain needs prescription
medication. More often than not phantom pain will cause you to tense/tighten up therefore perpetrating even more phantom pain. In
cases such as this usually a one time shot of morphine or other signifcant pain killer will do the trick,(as it did with me when I had
Strep Throat C). See a doctor either way.
REMEMBER – Increased blood flow to the amputated area will (in many cases) reduce the amount of pain. Therefore constant excercise, whether stretching, running, walking, bike riding or lifting weights can provide relief from phantom pain. Any other supplement or product that increases blood flow will have similar effects.
REMEMBER – The easiest and worst way to combat phantom pain to fill yourself full of medication. There are MANY alternatives, medication (especially the heavy addictive types) should be a LAST RESORT, not the first option.
Drug dependency can actually cause phantom pain to increase, rather than decrease.
Here are some tips on dealing with phantom sensation and pain.
Phantom Pain Relief Without Medication
(Condensed from The Christian Science Monitor)
Listed below are ways that members of Lower Extremity Amputees providing Support (LEAPS) of Kansas have found helpful in relieving phantom pain.
These methods don’t always work, of course, and what works for one person may not work for another. Remember, check with your doctor if you have any questions before trying these methods.
1. Wrap your stump in a warm, soft fabric, such as a towel. The warmth will sometimes increase circulation. Poor circulation is thought to be one cause of phantom pain.
2. Mentally exercise the limb that is not there in the area that is painful.
3. Mentally relax the missing limb and your stump.
4. Do some mild overall exercise to increase circulation.
5. Exercise the stump.
6. Tighten the muscles in the stump, then release them slowly.
7. Put ace wrap or shrinker sock on. If you have your prosthesis, put it on and take a short walk.
8. If you have pain with the prosthesis on, take it and the prosthetic sock off and put it back on after a few minutes. Sometimes the stump is being pinched and changing the way it is on will relieve the pressure on that nerve.
9. Change positions. If you are sitting, move around in your chair, or stand up to let the blood get down into your stump.
10. Soak in a warm bath or use a shower message or whirlpool on your stump. A hot tub is reported to do wonders.
11. Massage your stump with your hands or better yet have someone else message it while you try to relax your entire body.
12. Keep a diary of when pain is most severe. This can help you and your doctor identify recurring causes.
13. Wrap stump in a heating pad.
Some people have found help through self-hypnosis, biofeedback and chiropractic. If you have not found relief through any home remedies and the pain is not being controlled through normal medication, a pain center should be considered.
Mirror theraphy is another way to ease pain. There are many sites covering this remedy do a search for ‘mirror theraphy’