Dealing with pain after an amputation is difficult enough, but it is especially so when it’s present in the part of the body that has been amputated. This phenomenon, known as “phantom pain”, is one of the most common types of pain reported after an amputation. Phantom pain exists as the body learns to adapt to the great change that has occurred where the limb has been removed. When a limb has been amputated, nerve endings are cut. These nerves have served as messengers of sensation and movement to the brain as long as that limb has existed on the body. And even though the limb was removed, the brain still perceives it as being present. Sometimes only the sensation is present, but other times, there is a real presence of pain.
There are several things a person can do to alleviate phantom pain. Tactile stimulation, or the action of gently rubbing or tapping the area, can be helpful to retrain the brain to help it determine where the limb now ends. Using different textures of fabric is useful, starting with a soft cotton ball and working up to corduroy. However, it is very important that these not be placed over any open areas or incisions on the skin. Gentle exercises and certain types of pain medication are also available for this specific type of nerve pain under the direction of your physician or other health care provider. Some people have also found relaxation, vibration, meditation, massage, and acupuncture helpful in dealing with phantom pain.
It is important to keep your physician or other health care provider informed if you are experiencing phantom pain. With their help, an appropriate course of treatment can be determined to aid in alleviating phantom pain.