Phantom Pain Treatment

 

Over the years, I’ve worked with countless people dealing with multiple types of pain. Phantom pain stands out as one of the most confusing and deceptive that I work with and treat.

Last week, one of my closest patients called me to discuss his phantom pain. When talking to him, he couldn’t understand what was happening; he was confused, angry, and in pain. He communicated over the phone that he was getting a shooting pain from a limb no longer there, and he didn’t know how it was happening or what to do.

I could feel his stress over the phone. I knew what was happening; I’ve studied a great deal in prosthetics and understand the psycho-dynamics creating his confusion and pain. My heart went out to him – I am extremely passionate about enriching lives and amplifying human potential; when I see someone in pain, it drives me to help.

I was able to calm him down and begin the process of finding a solution for him. Together, we were able to talk through potential alleviations for his pain. His preferred remedy: take his fist and lightly hit his other leg, to relieve the pain, by tricking his brain into focusing on the other leg. Not requiring materials or equipment, he preferred this method for dealing with the pain.

What is Phantom Limb Pain?

Phantom limb pain and sensations happen to a majority of people after an amputation. It is pain or other feelings that occur in the severed limb.

The feelings can be an itch, pain, tingling, burning, or feeling like your limb is being squeezed. Typically, these feelings reduce after the first few months after amputation. The severity of feelings differ from person to person and can’t be predicted.

 

What causes the phantom pain / sensations?

This is something people have studied for years and still don’t have a great answer. What we know is that it seems to be caused by mixed signals from the brain or spinal cord, reacting to a triggered stimuli.

Often, phantom pain can be brought about by smoking, touch, temperature changes, weather/ barometric pressure, exercises, and cardiac issues. If you notice pain triggered by specific events, actions, or situations, let your healthcare provider(s) know, so they can help you manage your discomfort.

Treatment for Phantom Pain

Treatment for phantom pain varies, ranging from medications like NSAIDs, muscle relaxers or Beta-blockers, to non-medicinal treatments like TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) mirror box therapy, using a shrinker, massaging the residual limb, acupuncture, and biofeedback.

 

 

Mirror Box Therapy
This is the most common and well-known treatment for managing pain, through re-mapping the brain’s neural pathways. There are many theories for why this is effective. One theory is that it helps reduce mismatched signals between vision and proprioception.

Another theory is that the mirror helps the brain reduce the painful memories that the person has with the thought of their amputation surgery. There are still many questions about how and why this method works, but we are at least pleased that this widely accepted method does seem so successful in many people.

There is also a rumored effect from sleeping with a bar of soap under the sheets: reduced cramping. (As of this article being posted, there is no proven science behind this.) It is thought that the magnesium in the soap bar causes a reduction in cramping generally found in restless leg syndrome, while purportedly helping some people with phantom pain. Some recommend Lavender soap, as lavender is a natural muscle relaxer.

Virtual Reality Treatment
Recently, the use of virtual reality has been found to be helpful. This virtual reality treatment works similarly to mirror therapy by allowing the patient to control that lost limb in virtual reality and tricks the brain into thinking the limb is still there. This differs from mirror therapy because it instead of being controlled by the intact limb, it is controlled directly by the amputated limb.

This is a huge benefit to bilateral amputees who are not candidates for mirror therapy since they do not have an intact limb. Those who have used virtual reality treatment gradually noticed a decline in phantom pain.

 

 

Electromagnetic Field Blocking Fabric
Another item that is found to be helpful are fabrics that block or reduce high-frequency electromagnetic fields. Many amputees state that they can “predict rain” because their phantom pain occurs. This is due to low-pressure systems.

When there are low-pressure systems, the electromagnetic fields in the atmosphere increase. These fabrics that help block these electromagnetic fields are particularly important over the scar area since the scarred skin of suture line may not protect the nerves the same way that normal healthy skin does. SO these fabrics help create a shield to protect the damaged nerves and sensitive skin from the changes in atmospheric pressure and electromagnetic fields.

Many people don’t discuss their phantom pain because they fear that they will sound crazy to people. Phantom limb pain is real and shouldn’t be ignored.