Phantom Limb Pain

Phantom Limb Pain - man with amputated arm

Phantom limb pain is a form of pain which feels like it is coming from a body part that is no longer there. While previously there was speculation about where the pain derived from, experts now agree that these sensations originate in the brain and spinal cord.

This condition usually occurs most often in people who have had a limb removed, however there are other cases where patient’s experience phantom pain after surgery removes other body parts.

For some, phantom pain diminishes without treatment. They simply need time. However, for other, phantom limb pain can be quite difficult to manage. Thankfully, there are treatment options available.


After a limb is removed, some people notice that the amputated limb feels as if it is still there. While rare, it may also occur in people who were born without particular limbs.

Phantom limb sensations are described as feeling cold, warm, itchy, or tingly. However, this is not exactly the same thing as phantom pain. Rather, phantom pain, is pain existing in a limb that is no longer there.

Phantom pain characters usually consist of the following:

  • Develops within a few days after amputation
  • Feels as if the missing limb is in an uncomfortable position
  • May be continuous or sporadic
  • Described as shooting, throbbing, burning, stabbing, or squeezing
  • May be triggered by emotional stress
  • Usually affects the part of the limb farthest from the body

Phantom Limb Pain Causes:

Although the limb is no longer there, various nerve endings at the amputation site continue to send pain signals to the spinal cord and then to the brain. This tricks the brain into thinking the limb still exists. If the brain still believes the limb is intact, the patient may experience pain. One of the most basic messages the brain may send is that of pain.

Interestingly, the brain may also remap the body’s responses to another part of the body. For example, if a patient is missing their leg the brain may send the pain signals from the missing leg to another body part. This usually ends up in the other body part receiving pain it shouldn’t normally receive.

Other factors such as damaged nerve endings, scar tissue, and physical memory may also contribute to phantom limb pain.

Phantom Limb Pain Treatments:

At Metropolitan Pain Consultants, we offer our patients two minimally invasive options for phantom limb pain: traditional spinal cord stimulation (SCS) and BurstDR stimulation.

Both forms of stimulation involve your doctor inserting tiny electrodes along your spinal cord. The electrodes deliver a small electrical current to the spinal cord to manipulate the pain signals the brain perceives. Traditional stimulators do so through the use of tonic stimulation. While it has been the primary form of stimulation for several decades, experts are now turning their attention to burst stimulation.

St. Jude Medical created BurstDR stimulation using a team of experts. Their aim: to mimic the way the brain perceives pain and make stimulation as natural as possible. Whereas patient’s using tonic stimulation often note a small tingling sensation throughout their body (paresthesia), BurstDR patient’s are less likely to experience such sensations. Furthermore, the experts behind BurstDR attempt to heal physical discomfort as well as the emotional discomfort that pain brings. With BurstDR stimulation, patients are reclaiming a pain free life.

Finally, our expert pain physicians work closely with our patients to find the treatment plan for them. If you are experiencing recurring low back pain and wish to discuss your pain condition further, please contact us today. You can reach us at  201-729-0001 to schedule a consultation at one of our clinics. Our conveniently located clinics can be found in West OrangeAberdeenClifton, and Lyndhurst.

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