Many people who have an amputation experience some degree of stump pain or “phantom limb” pain.
Stump pain can have many different causes, including rubbing or sores where the stump touches a prosthetic limb, nerve damage during surgery and the development of neuromas.
Phantom limb sensations are sensations that seem to be coming from the amputated limb. Occasionally, these can be painful (phantom limb pain).
The term “phantom” does not mean the sensations are imaginary. Phantom limb pain is a real phenomenon, which has been confirmed using brain imaging scans to study how nerve signals are transmitted to the brain.
The symptoms of phantom limb pain can range from mild to severe. Some people have described brief “flashes” of mild pain, similar to an electric shock, that last for a few seconds. Others have described constant severe pain.
Treating stump and phantom limb pain
Stump and phantom limb pain will usually improve over time, but treatments are available to help relieve the symptoms.
Medicines that may be used to help relieve pain include:
- non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – such as ibuprofen.
- anticonvulsants – such as carbamazepine or gabapentin.
- antidepressants – such as amitriptyline or nortriptyline, which are useful in treating nerve pain.
- opioids – such as codeine or morphine.
- corticosteroid or local anaesthetic injections.
Self-Help Measures And Complementary Therapy
There are several non-invasive techniques that may help relieve pain in some people. They include:
- adjusting the way your prosthesis fits to make it more comfortable.
- applying heat or cold to your limb, such as using heat or ice packs, rubs and creams.
- massage – to increase circulation and stimulate muscles.
- acupuncture is thought to stimulate the nervous system and relieve pain.
- transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) – which uses a small, battery-operated device to deliver electrical impulses to the affected area of your body, to block or reduce pain signals.
Research has shown that people who spend 40 minutes a day imagining using the part of their limb that was amputated, such as stretching out their “fingers” or bunching up their “toes”, experience a reduction in pain symptoms.
This may be related to the central theory of phantom limb pain. Researchers think the brain looks to receive feedback from an amputated limb, and these mental exercises may provide an effective substitute for this missing feedback.
Another technique, known as mirror visual feedback, involves using a mirror to create a reflection of the other limb. Some people find that exercising and moving their other limb can help relieve phantom pain.
Stuff That Works
Stuff that works are a community working together to help each other find ‘stuff that works’ for all sorts of conditions including phantom limb pain. Join the group to share your own ideas and other members tips and tricks to find out what works best for you. Check it out here.