Sensory Phantoms: Dealing With The Loss Of A Limb

January 5, 2009
By Gloria Troyer CBC News

One of the hardest parts of adjusting to an amputation can be the distracting and often painful sensations from nerves that are no longer even there

Imagine having an unbearable itch that you absolutely can’t scratch, or a muscle pain you cannot simply knead away. Losing a limb is devastating enough, both physically and mentally, but one of the hardest parts of adjusting to an amputation can be the distracting and often painful sensations from nerves that are no longer even there.

Whether they lose a limb as a result of a traumatic injury or disease, about 90 per cent of amputees experience sensations that seem to come from the amputated portion of the limb, according to research conducted by Dr. Jack W. Tsao with the department of neurology at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) in Bethesda, MD.

This sensory echo of the former limb is referred to as the phantom and the feelings coming from it are called phantom sensations. The phantom usually feels as though it is the same size and shape as the amputated portion of the limb.

Phantom sensations are normally not painful and should not be confused with phantom pain, which is more intense. More…

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