Phantom pain is the intense discomfort experienced by approximately ninety percent of amputees (Rosenblum 142). It is thought to result from over exuberant neuroplasticity, in other words your neural networks are rewiring, reorganizing, and making new connections to compensate for damaged or adjusted ones. In the reading, phantom pain is discussed in Chapter Six through a man named Ben Curry who accidentally cut his toe which subsequently became afflicted with gangrene. Because the gangrene damage was so severe, he had to have his leg amputated. Curry reported his pain as moderate, and experienced symptoms such as itching, burning, and tingling in the missing toe and leg area. The symptoms Curry expressed are very common according to Amputee Coalition alongside some more moderate to severe ones (amputee-coalition.org).
|Photo Credit: The Lancet|
I first heard of this condition through my uncle who lost his left leg in a freak accident: he was cutting down a tree that fell in the wrong direction and impaled his leg into the ground. Thankfully he was rushed to the hospital in time and while they were not able to save anything below the knee, they were able to save his life. While he is assisted through a prosthesis (artificial leg), his journey has not been easy. Not only does he have to overcome the challenges of not having a leg and the associated trauma of the event, but is also frequently symptomatic with phantom pains. He often reports a sharp stinging and intense pain that feels like shockwaves dispersing through his entire leg. Even with all of these inhibitors, my uncle avidly hunts, fishes, swims, landscapes, undergoes home DIY projects, works, and drives his truck - he has been doing so strongly and admirably for twenty years come this September.
There are many different ways to "treat" phantom pains through medicated means, non-medicated means, or a combination of both. Some examples include muscle relaxants, antidepressants, acupuncture, massage, and more (amputee-coalition.org). However, these approaches do not work for everyone and the length of time in which an amputee may experience phantom pain differs from person to person.
Rosenblum, L. D. (2010). See What I'm Saying: The Extraordinary Powers of Our Five Senses. W.W. Norton & Company.
Amputee Coalition. (n.d.). Managing Phantom Pain. https://www.amputee-coalition.org/limb-loss-resource-center/resources-for-pain-management/managing-phantom-pain/