Losing a limb can be devastating and debilitating. Phantom pain is the sensation of pain or discomfort in a lost body part. People who have had amputations frequently experience this, in which the amputated limb continues to cause discomfort even if it is no longer physically present. Researchers believe that phantom pain is caused by overexuberant neuroplasticity or the way the brain remembers pain signals. The nervous system signals between the spinal cord and the brain become mixed up, basically causing the brain to misinterpret the information it receives. Phantom pain can be short-term, or long-lasting. According to Cleveland Clinic (2023), phantom limb pain is very common in amputees, with 8 out of 10 people experiencing some form of this sensation.
Phantom limb pain can be triggered by chest pain, temperature changes, shingles, stress, and smoking. Symptoms of phantom limb pain include burning or aching, itching, tingling, throbbing, or shooting pains. Pain relievers or antidepressants can combat the pain felt after an amputation. There are many other treatment options available as well to ease the pain. One way to trick the brain into reducing phantom pain is by using mirror therapy. Mirror therapy is completing movement exercises in front of a mirror using the healthy limb. Repeating these exercises using the reflection of a mirror allows the phantom pain to reduce because over time the brain believes two limbs are present.