Phantom Limb Pain: Therapy and Treatment Options for Amputees

When a limb is amputated, the nerve endings at the site of amputation may sometimes continue to send signals back to the brain. The brain may interpret these signals as a variety of sensations, including pain. It sometimes feels as if the limb is still there. This is referred to as a phantom limb. A person has a variety of treatment options to help them with these symptoms. The pain sensation for a phantom limb does not indicate any real health problem, but it can be difficult to deal with. Symptoms usually go away on their own, but if the problem persists for longer than six months, additional therapy and treatment may be necessary.

Pain - Phantom Limb Pain: Therapy and Treatment Options for Amputees

Pain Management Therapy 

Pain management techniques that do not involve medications are useful because they tend to have fewer side-effects and may provide long-lasting or permeant pain relief. There are certain therapies used specifically for phantom limbs. The first therapy is a TENS device. This device sends mild electric impulses through the skin and into the nerves. These impulses interrupt nerve signals and may mask the pain associated with the phantom limb. The device is worn daily to provide continuous relief without medications.

The other alternative is mirror box therapy. This therapy attempts to relieve pain by training the brain to think that the limb still exists and is working properly. The mirror box makes it appear as though the limb still exists. The person then performs a variety of exercises using the mirror box. If the treatment is effective, the person should experience reduced pain or become pain-free.

Additional Procedures 

A person may consult their healthcare professional about additional medical procedures. These could include nerve blocks and injections that stop nerve signals and control pain. More advanced surgeries such as brain stimulation or surgical removal of the damaged nerves may also be considered.

Treatment with Medications 

There is no definitive medicine for phantom limb pain. Other medications that help patients deal with general nerve pain may also be effective in treating phantom limb pain. A person may have to try a variety of drugs to find one that works for them.  Antidepressants have been shown to relieve nerve pain symptoms. These drugs work by changing the chemical signals the nerves use to relay pain messages. The drugs also tend to cause drowsiness. This may help a person sleep since chronic sleep deprivation is common among those with chronic nerve pain.

Epilepsy drugs also affect the nerves’ ability to relay signals. This can help prevent the uncontrolled pain signals sent by the damaged nerves. More traditional narcotic painkillers, like those available from Potter’s House Apothecary, may reduce the noticeability of nerve pain. The risk with these medications is their addictive nature and the fact that they do not truly treat the cause of pain. They only mask the symptoms of pain. A person would need to take these medications for a prolonged period, increasing the likelihood of addiction and abuse.

There is no simple fix to phantom nerve pain, but a person can explore a wide variety of options to find one that works for them. Pain management is usually a prolonged process rather than a simple fix. Certain treatments may help a person cope with the pain as it reduces over time.

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