Ghost Limbs & Phantom Pain | Summary, Symptoms, Treatment

Ghost Limbs & Phantom Pain | Summary, Symptoms, Treatment

Almost two million people in the United States have suffered from losing a limb, and that number is expected to double by 2050. Whether you’ve recently experienced limb loss or it was decades ago – you can experience a strange phenomenon referred to as a ghost limb, or phantom pain. 

Today, we’re covering what it is, the symptoms that may accompany it and the treatment options available. If you think you may be experiencing this condition, and would like assistance then reach out today

What Is a Ghost Limb, Or Phantom Pain?

A ghost limb and a phantom limb are one in the same. A lot of the time, when somebody loses a limb, they can feel as though their limb is still there. This sensation, which is known as a ghost or phantom limb, is often painful. 

As far as medical science can tell – it appears that areas of the brain, spinal cord, and sensory nerves remap after limb loss, and signals get mixed up, similar to tangled or crossed wires. This can be frustrating for patients experiencing it. It’s also unfortunately fairly common in the limb loss community, with an estimated 8 in 10 people who lose a limb experiencing some degree of it. 

How Do I Know If I’m Experiencing Phantom Pain?

When identifying phantom pain, it’s important to differentiate between true phantom sensations and residual limb pain. Is the pain affecting the remaining limb, like the stump? Or does it feel as though your limb is still there? If unsure, your doctor will run physical exams and tests to rule out residual limb pain, caused by infection or similar.

Phantom pain or sensations reported include:

  • Burning
  • Crushing
  • Shooting pains
  • Pins and needles
  • Electric shock

And although less common, some patients also report feeling vibrations, movement, and extreme temperatures.

What Are The Treatment Options Available For Phantom Pain?

Treatment of phantom limb pain is typically directed toward enhancing the neuroplastic ability of the brain, designed to help adapt and reorganize its perception of the lost limb.

Alongside traditional treatment such as pain medication and muscle relaxers, treatments that send electrical impulses to the nerves, brain or spinal cord have been shown to help ease the pain. These could include:

  • Neurostimulation 
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

Alongside this, mirror therapy, therapeutic activities, massage, and other exercise can retrain your brain to help limit the phantom pain felt. If you’re experiencing this pain, don’t hesitate – reach out today so our groundbreaking team of experts can help you.