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FAQs About Phantom Limb Pain

True to its name, phantom limb pain or phantom limb sensation is a harrowing condition. Feeling pain from a limb that is no longer on your body seems like unfair irony, yet it’s a reality for 85 percent of amputee patients. 

A lot about phantom limb pain remains unknown. But treatments that alleviate symptoms, make prosthetics more comfortable, and improve mobility are always advancing. Here’s what we can share about phantom limb pain: 

What triggers phantom limb pain?

Following amputation, many patients begin feeling a  sensation of pain where the limb used to be. For some, it is not exactly pain, but a tingling sensation or discomfort. It typically begins within the first week or months after surgery and can be chronic. Neuromas, which are tangled nerve masses that develop after nerves are severed during the amputation, can also send confusing signals to the brain that contribute to phantom limb pain. 

Is phantom limb a result of nerve damage?

Phantom limb pain is a result of nerve damage at the amputation site. Nerves are critical signalers to the brain. When nerves get cut during an amputation, painful scar tissue called neuromas can form, sending signals that confuse the brain and trigger pain. 

Is phantom limb pain psychological?Girl with artificial limb in pain

There may be some psychological components related to phantom pain. The memory of the limb alone may invoke some pain, but it is also a physical condition stemming from nerve damage. Specialists are still learning about psychological contributors to phantom pain.

Is phantom limb pain a neurological disorder?

Phantom limb pain is considered neurological because it affects the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. Treatment options for phantom limb pain are similar to those recommended for other types of neurological disorders. 

What happens in the brain with phantom limb sensation?

When a limb gets amputated, nerve damage can cause confusing signals to be sent to the brain. Nerves communicate that something isn’t right, which the brain can misinterpret as pain signals. There is still much to be discovered about what happens in the brain when phantom limb pain occurs, which surgeons continue to research. 

What does phantom limb pain feel like?

Phantom pain feels like a shooting, stabbing, burning, or numb sensation that can limit mobility and be very debilitating. The pain may be concentrated at the amputation site or radiate throughout the body since nerves are a connected network. 

Will phantom pain ever go away?

With the right treatment course, phantom limb pain will improve over time or go away completely. Many amputees live pain-free in the years following targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR) surgery, while others have found medications and other therapies to manage their chronic pain effectively. 

How do you fix a phantom limb?

Fixing a phantom limb requires a combination of medications, physical therapy, holistic treatments, and sometimes surgical procedures. It’s a complex condition that requires patience and time to completely heal. Every case is different and requires specialized recommendations from the patient’s care team. 

What is the first-line treatment for phantom limb pain?

The first line of treatment for phantom limb pain is physical therapy to strengthen the damaged muscles and nerves. Your care team may also prescribe medication to reduce inflammation and manage pain. Patients may consider complementary therapies such as mirror therapy, acupuncture, and music therapy. 

Can the phantom limb be cured?

Because every phantom limb condition is unique, no single treatment has been proven as a cure. However, TMR surgery has recently provided positive outcomes to more and more phantom limb patients. Phantom limb pain can also improve over time or go away completely with medications, physical therapy, and complementary holistic treatments. 

What is the newest treatment for phantom limb?

The Institute for Advanced Reconstruction has pioneered surgical procedures for nerve reconstruction that significantly reduce phantom limb pain. Targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR) surgery is one of the newest surgical treatment options for phantom limb and has shown positive outcomes on qualified patients.  

What is the most effective treatment for phantom limb pain?

The most effective treatment for phantom limb pain will depend on the individual injury and recommendations of the patient’s care team. Many patients have been successfully treated with targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR) surgery, which can be performed during or after limb amputation to prevent phantom pain and neuromas. 

Phantom limb pain has mystified physicians for years. Our reconstructive and plastic surgeons are advancing surgical nerve reconstruction with every procedure they perform. As some of the only surgeons in the world with the expertise to perform TMR surgery, they are committed to their mission of changing patients’ lives by relieving their pain and helping them return to their daily lives. 

Request an Appointment to learn more about phantom limb pain and neuroma. 


What is Targeted Muscle Reinnervation? | Treating Phantom Limb Pain