Phantom limb pain (PLP) is a perception of pain originating from a body part that is no longer there. This pain starts after the amputation of some part of the body. Usually, phantom pain is experienced after the amputation of arms or legs, but sometimes it may occur after the removal of the breast.
In most cases, the pain goes away on its own. However, in a few patients, pain can be severe and long-lasting. PLP can be controlled if you meet with an experienced pain specialist and start treatment ASAP.
Symptoms of Phantom Limb Pain (PLP)
- The onset of pain within the first week after amputation or it can even start after a few months of amputation
- Continuous or intermittent pain
- Pain that can be described as stabbing, shooting, crushing, cramping, pins and needles, throbbing and burning
How is Phantom pain diagnosed?
There is no specific medical test that can diagnose phantom pain. Doctors usually diagnose the condition based on the symptoms and history of accident, trauma, or surgery, which happened before the pain started.
What is the cure for Phantom Limb Pain?
Management of phantom pain can be difficult. Your pain specialist may start treatment with medications.
Although there is no single, specific drug for relieving phantom pain, some drugs which are used for treating other conditions can help relieve this pain. This treatment is on a case by case basis and not everyone gets relief from medications. The doctor may prescribe different medications to find which one works best for your situation. Medications may include:
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Pain Relievers
Tylenol, Advil, Motrin, etc. might relieve the phantom pain. However, these drugs should be taken per the advice of a pain specialist.
Tricyclic antidepressants may help in relieving pain.
Drugs used to treat epilepsy like gabapentin or pregabalin may help in treating PLP.
Opioid drugs such as morphine and codeine can also be used. Since these drugs are strong pain killers, they should only be taken per a doctor’s prescription.
N-Methyl-D-Aspartate (NMDA) Receptor Antagonists
This is a class of anesthetic drugs that works by binding to the NMDA receptors on the nerve cells of the brain. They block the activity of glutamate, which plays a major role in sending nerve signals. Examples of NMDA antagonists are ketamine and dextromethorphan.
Additional Therapy Options:
This is a device that contains mirrors and makes the patient feel as if amputated limb still exists.
It may relief phantom pain for some people.
Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS)
An electromagnetic coil is placed against the forehead, which sends short pulses to the nerves located in a specific area of the brain. This interferes with the pain signals reaching the brain.
Spinal Cord Stimulation
The doctor inserts small electrodes along the spinal cord, and a continuous electric current is passed through the electrodes, which help in relieving the pain.
Your doctor may recommend surgery if other options do not give you relief from pain.
In this method, small electrodes are surgically placed within the brain, and the current is delivered. The surgeon uses an MRI to accurately position the electrodes in the brain.
Living without a limb can be very difficult and life changing. If you are suffering from phantom limb pain, it can make the situation that much worse. However, you have options to treat this pain. Schedule an appointment to meet with the pain specialists at “The Pain Center” to discuss all the possible treatment options for PLP.