Phantom limb pain is mild to extreme pain felt in the area where a limb has been amputated. A phantom limb is the sensation that an amputated or missing limb is still attached to the body and is moving appropriately with other body parts.
Approximately 60 to 80% of individuals with an amputation experience phantom sensations in their amputated limb, and the majority of the sensations are painful. Phantom limb pain may also occur after the removal of body parts other than the limbs, e.g. after amputation of the breast. Phantom limb pain is usually intermittent. The frequency and intensity of attacks usually decline with time.
Although the limb is no longer there, the nerve endings continue to send pain signals to the brain causing the brain think the limb is still there. A slightly different sensation known as phantom pains can also occur in people who are born without limbs. It is often described as a burning or similarly strange sensation and can be extremely painful for some. The exact sensation differs widely. Other sensations include warmth, cold, itching, squeezing, tightness, and tingling.
Treatments for phantom limb pain can range from visual and thought exercises to spinal cord stimulation (SCS). SCS can be effective treatment for phantom limb pain. An electrical stimulator is implanted under the skin, and an electrode is placed next to the spinal cord. The nerve pathways in the spinal cord are stimulated by an electric current. This interferes with the impulses traveling towards the brain and lessens the pain felt in the phantom limb.