Phantom Limb Pain: What It Is and What Can Be Done

Posted on: September 16th, 2014 by JPO Blogger
Gain a better understanding here.

Gain a better understanding here.

Amputations are performed on approximately 185,000 individuals each year. These amputations may be due to diabetes, vascular disease, cancer, trauma or other causes. After an amputation is performed, nearly 80 percent of patients experience phantom limb pain. Here, JP&O would like to discuss what phantom limb pain is, what to talk to your doctor about, and treatments.

Meet Joe Jessen

One of JP&O’s lead prosthetic technicians is Joe Jessen. He is a Certified Prosthetic Assistant with more than 10 years of experience. Joe brings a unique contribution to the JP&O lab, as he has been an amputee himself for 35 years.  Joe was in a tractor trailer collision with a train, on December 7, 1979. He was pushed 2,485 feet before the cab of his truck caught fire.  Joe spent six weeks in the hospital and was discharged on crutches with a temporary socket, and three months later was in his first prosthesis. Joe currently wears the Harmony Vacuum System and helps educate others through the Harmony Vacuum System course. Joe has experienced phantom limb pain and gives us insight on what it feels like and what he does for the most relief.

Meet Allison Miller

Another story comes from Allison Miller, who is a current Resident with JP&O. After completing her two year residency, she will go on to take the board exams for a Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics. Allison has been driven to pursue this carrier path because of her own experience as an amputee.  She was only three years old when she was in a lawnmower accident and lost about half of her right foot. Allison explains her personal experience with phantom pain and that of patients she has worked with.

The testimony and information given here is not by a physician and patients should always seek the medical opinion of a doctor before pursuing any treatment. JP&O creates custom prosthetic limbs for the needs of every patient, and has licensed practitioners available to fit, create and help patients adjust to their new prosthetic limb.

What is Phantom Limb Pain?

Phantom limb pain is characterized by pain that seems to be coming from the amputated limb or extremity. It may feel like burning, twisting, itching or pressure.

For Joe, the pain was experienced most directly after amputation and has since faded. It now occurs infrequently and at unexpected times, often when he is fatigued and has been on his leg more than usual. The pains for him feel like a sharp stabbing or electrical shock. Sometimes he will have only one pain and at other times there will be multiple. Aside from phantom pain, Joe also experiences phantom sensations. Because he remembers what it was like to have his limb and toes, and the nerves remain after amputation, he still feels as though he can move the parts that are not there. These are mixed signals coming from the spinal cord or brain. They can last anywhere from a few minutes, to a few days.

Allison compares her experience to a congenital deformity because she was so young when her accident happened and has no memory of having a whole foot.  Allison, along with most congenital patients, does not experience any phantom pains or sensations.

What about my Phantom Limb Pain should I tell my doctor?

Many patients are hesitant to tell anyone about their phantom limb pain because it seems unusual. While it may be difficult for a non-amputee to understand, it is very real and can be treated. Joe suggests to other amputees that the more quickly you can work toward accepting the loss and seek treatment, the better. Your doctor will be able to help you understand what is happening between your mind and body and work with you to find a treatment plan for your unique situation.

What can be done for Phantom Limb Pain?

There are several treatments available to create the best plan for an amputee. Medications prescribed by a physician are typically advised to be taken at a specific time of the day or used together with other non-medicinal treatments to produce the best results. JP&O does not provide medications in our facility, but can recommend non-medicinal treatments that may help ease the discomfort of Phantom Limb Pain, including massage of the limb or use of a therapist. Other treatments may include acupuncture, biofeedback, virtual reality therapy, imagery, music and mirror box therapy.

Joe suggests compression of the limb and shrinkers for treatment of phantom pain or sensations. He says massaging the area helps greatly, but that medications offered by a physician were less helpful for him personally. Allison has never experienced pain or sensations herself, but has worked with many patients who deal with both. Agreeing with Joe, she says shrinkers and compression on the limb help greatly along with massaging the area where the nerves had to be cut.

JP&O understands every situation is different and has experts to serve the needs of each patient. We invite you to visit us online to learn more about our products and services.

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