Phantom limb pain is a painful sensation from a limb that does not exist (usually due to amputation, but the condition sometimes occurs in patients who were born without the limb). The missing limb can feel shorter and may feel as if it is in a distorted and painful position. Surgical removal of body parts other than limbs (e.g. after breast amputation, tooth extraction or eye enucleation) can also produce phantom sensations.
Causes and Symptoms of Phantom Limb Pain
The causes of phantom limb pain are not fully understood. But this neuropathic (related to the nervous system) pain seems to appear when the nerves that originally carried messages from the limb continue to send signals to the brain, and the brain interprets these as pain signals. Symptoms can include a variety of sensations:
burning, stabbing or piercing pain
feels as if limb is still there and can move
tickling, itching, twitching, numbness or cramping
The phantom pain can vary with intensity and duration. Some patients experience the painful sensations immediately after surgery, while for others the symptoms can occur after months or even years. For some patients the feeling diminishes over time, and for others it can occur daily. Stress and anxiety may contribute to the phantom limb pain.
Diagnosis of Phantom Limb Pain
Many phantom limb sufferers have been reluctant in the past to share their symptoms for fear of not being believed. However, the condition has been well documented and is now well known to the medical community.
Your physician will want to talk with you about your medical history and your symptoms. At NSPC this usually happens at one of our centers on Long Island, NY.
Treatments for Phantom Limb Pain
A wide range of treatments are available for phantom limb pain including medications such as anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, muscle relaxants and pain medications, nerve blocks, neuromodulation, biofeedback, mirror therapy and surgical treatment.
Spinal Cord Stimulation for Phantom Limb Pain During this procedure the neurosurgeon implants a small electrode in the spine to deliver electrical pulses to block the pain signals to the brain.
Motor Cortex Stimulation for Phantom Limb Pain Motor cortex stimulation (MCS) has been used to treat chronic pain conditions such as atypical facial pain, post-stroke pain (PSP), and other nerve or brain injury pain syndromes. A board-certified neurosurgeon implants electrodes over the primary motor cortex (part of the brain for voluntary movements). These electrodes are then linked to a neurostimulator. If stimulation of the motor cortex successfully mitigates the patient’s pain, then the neurostimulator is implanted under the skin near the clavicle.
As a leader in neurosurgical practice in the New York and Tri-State region, Neurological Surgery, P.C. (NSPC) has experienced brain and spine surgeons who provide skilled state-of-the-art surgical treatments. Our physicians are experts in the specialties of pain management, interventional neuroradiology, neuro-oncology, epileptology (epilepsy neurology), neuro-ophthalmology, critical care neurology and neurophysiology, as well as the clinical psychology specialty of neuropsychology.
Talk with one of our phantom limb pain specialists at one of our New York area medical centers.