Phantom pain is a common issue for those who have suffered the loss of a limb but it is deceptively complicated to treat. For many patients it can feel like a shooting pain, itch, squeezing, tingling or burning. These feeling usually decrease over time but when they do occur they not only hurt but they can cause frustration, anger, lack of sleep, and depression. It is very hard to understand and deal with pains in a limb that is no longer there. The severity of the pain is different from person to person.
What causes phantom pain in amputees? Well, research is still being done on this but it seems to come from mixed signals from the brain or spinal cord which are reacting to a triggered stimuli. The pain can be brought on by weather, temperature, smoking, touch, exercise, cardiac issues, or nothing at all. Since the cause is still being researched, it makes treating it very difficult still.
Here are a few methods of handling phantom pain from our amputee therapy experts:
- The first recommendation is distraction. Often times tapping or lightly hitting the other leg will distract the brain enough to reduce the phantom pain.
- Another treatment is getting medications from your physicians like muscle relaxers, NSAIDS, beta-blockers, or a TENS unit.
- An interesting and useful therapy for phantom pain is mirror box therapy. This helps re-map the brain's neural pathways. This therapy may help reduce mixed signals between proprioception and vision. If you are interested in mirror box therapy, you will want to contact your physical therapists and see if they provide mirror therapy. There is also now virtual reality treatment which uses similar principals to micro box therapy. This technique allows patients to use the limb in virtual reality. This is greatly beneficial for bilateral amputees who cannot use mirror box therapy.
- A simple solution that may assist in phantom pain may be sleeping with a bar of soap under your sheets. There is no proven science behind this yet but it is believed that the magnesium in the bar of soap causes reduction in cramping which can lead to phantom pain.
- There are certain fabrics that may assist in blocking electromagnetic fields and atmospheric changes and some patients feel that this can help their phantom pain. The fabric aids in protecting damaged nerves and sensitive skin from the changes in pressure, atmosphere, and electromagnetic fields.
As you can see, phantom pain is difficult to treat and is still being heavily researched to find the cause as well as the cure.