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Phantom Limb Pain: Phenomenon or Reality?

Dr. Scott Gottlieb of Gramercy Pain Management in Montebello, NY explains why Phantom Limb Pain is a real affliction and not just a psychology issue

Phantom Limb Pain (PLP) was once believed to be a psychological problem, but is now considered a very real issue for those who suffer from this affliction.

PLP is a mild to severe pain felt at the area of amputation. Experts say the sensations experienced derive from the brain and spinal cord. A person with PLP may be subjected to these symptoms because pain receptors transmit signals to the brain where it can be modified to either enhance or inhibit the sensation levels. This burden can most often occur when a leg or an arm has been surgically removed. It can also occur when a tongue, breast, or eye is lost.

Some symptoms that a PLP sufferer may feel post-amputation include:

  • Tingling
  • Cramping
  • Feelings of hot and cold
  • Itchiness, throbbing, shooting and burning pains

Not everyone who loses a limb suffers from PLP. It is still unknown why some experience these symptoms and others do not.

Treatment is available for someone who is being affected by this hardship, they include:

  • Medications – pain-relievers, antidepressants, beta-blockers
  • Heat application
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Massage of the amputated area
  • Surgery to remove scar tissue trapping a nerve
  • Physical therapy
  • Neurostimulation – spinal cord or deep brain stimulation

 For some, the pain disappears over time.

Another option for a person with PLP is to receive a spinal cord stimulator; tiny electrodes inserted along the spinal cord. A small electrical current delivered to the spinal cord can sometimes relieve pain.

Accepting to live with the loss of a body part can be difficult. Staying active and finding distractions is known to help sufferers cope with PLP. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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