Phantom limb pain is a burning, twisting, itching, or a feeling of pressure that comes from a limb that is no longer there. The limb is gone, but the pain is real. Despite what you might think, this pain is a common problem with amputees, especially soon after surgery. The type and length of pain varies from person to person; some people experience the pain for only a few seconds while others have the pain for many days. Luckily, for most people, PLP (phantom limb pain) decreases in frequency and duration during the first six months. However, some amputees may continue to experience some level of pain for years.
Causes of Phantom Limb Pain
Phantom limb pain is thought to be caused by mixed signals from your brain or spinal cord. New treatment therapies for PLP attempt to change these misfiring signals.
The following activities or conditions might trigger PLP:
- Urination or defecation
- Sexual intercourse
- Cigarette smoking
- Changes in barometric pressure
- Herpes zoster
- Exposure to cold
Let your healthcare provider know if you identify specific actions/conditions that trigger your PLP. Try to avoid any recognized triggers and remember that other conditions, like changes in the barometric pressure, can elicit your pain. This awareness will keep you from being unpleasantly surprised when pain arises because of the weather or other conditions.
Do not hesitate to inform your healthcare provider when you experience this pain so treatment can begin.
Treatments for Phantom Limb Pain
Treating PLP usually includes a combination of non-medication treatments and medication treatments. The medications you will take are meant to interrupt the pain signals in your brain or spinal cord, while non-medication therapies will help with your brain’s interpretation of these signals.
Medications for Phantom Limb Pain
There are many different medications to use to decrease pain, and each of them targets a different kind of pain sensation.,/p>
Some of the pain meds you may be given include:
- Acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Opioids (narcotic pain medications)
- Muscle relaxants
Work closely with your healthcare provided to find the best medications for you.
Non-Mediation Treatments for Phantom Limb Pain
Another way to alleviate PLP pain is to try alternative therapies like the following:
- Massage of the residual limb
- Use of a shrinker
- Repositioning of the residual limb by propping on a pillow or cushion
- Mirror box therapy
- TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)
- Virtual reality therapy
Talk with your healthcare provider to create the best pain management plan for you. Pain does not need to overwhelm your life. There are effective solutions to reduce phantom limb pain that allow you to live an enjoyable life.