You’re adjusting to life after amputation and learning to change how you do things to accommodate your new normal. Unfortunately, you’re also dealing with phantom limb pain, which is the very definition of the expression “adding insult to injury.” What you want to know now is will this pain go away, or is it, too, a part of your new normal?
The answer to this question is: no, maybe, and everything in between. The team here at Commonwealth Pain & Spine understands your frustration, but here’s what we want you to know about phantom limb pain. And, more importantly, how we bring you relief, so there’s one less concern moving forward after amputation.
About 30,000 to 40,000 amputations are performed each year in the United States, and 95% of patients report amputation-related pain. This number includes nearly 80% of patients who develop phantom limb pain.
This pain is often described as a burning sensation, but the symptoms can also include itching and pressure. You may also feel like the limb is still there. However your phantom limb symptoms manifest themselves, we assure you they’re very real.
We don’t know why so many patients experience phantom limb pain after an amputation, but we believe there are several causes.
First, the nerves in the immediate area of the amputation have been traumatized. Often, neuromas develop that entrap nerves, leading to pain at the site of the amputation. In fact, 7 out of 10 people who’ve undergone amputation develop residual limb pain.
Second, your nervous system changes, and pain signaling can become garbled. This occurs because neural activity increases in your spinal cord, a process called central sensitization, which can lead to heightened pain. Also, your brain rearranges itself without your limb, and the messages from your nerves can become confused.
Between the trauma of the amputation and the reorganization in your nervous system, it’s little wonder that phantom limb pain is so prevalent.
Now, let’s get to the answer you really want — will the pain and discomfort go away? The good news is that, in most cases, the symptoms subside within three to six months as your body and nervous system adjust.
During this time, we can help you manage the pain through medications and/or nerve stimulation therapies.
Unfortunately, a few amputees have chronic problems with phantom limb pain, but, rest assured, we work with you until you find relief. Solutions for long-term phantom limb pain include neurostimulation, therapy, and even surgery to free entrapped nerves.
If you’re experiencing phantom limb pain, it’s important to have a good pain management team in your corner. To get started, you can make an appointment at a location near you. We have offices in St. Matthews, Elizabethtown, Lexington, Crestview Hills, Owensboro, and London, Kentucky. We also serve patients in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio.