Phantom Limb Syndrome: The Pain Beyond Loss

We’ve all heard of this phenomenon and know how long does phantom pain last, whether in the movies or on TV. But do we know what it is and what scientific explanation it has? The truth is that it receives this name due to the “absence” of the member from which the brain is receiving sensations, and for this reason, it has been given the name of the ghost.

It is a picture of sensations, pain, itching, dysesthesia, and thermal sensation that some people feel in an amputated limb, which persists despite not having it. It varies a lot depending on the case, but the truth is that almost two-thirds of amputees say they feel this type of perception. The pain is so intense, and the sensation becomes so unbearable that many patients think about suicide in the face of a terrible experience.”

Biological Causes Of The Syndrome

Before, it was thought that the pathology lay in the peripheral nerves of the amputated limb, so the treatments were aimed at alleviating the area, and peripheral measures were taken on nerves or stumps, which included surgeries and were ineffective. However, we now know that “its physiology is based on the persistence of brain areas dedicated to that member that do not receive a response from it and generate a spontaneous discharge that contaminates other perceptions and becomes chronic. The problem depends on neuronal plasticity, and the solution must be stated in these terms.

To become more familiar with the type of sensations that can occur, the doctor tells us of various examples, such as the veterans of the Battle of Gettysburg, who already presented what was then called “sensory phantoms.”

Sensory Conditioning With Mirrors

Currently, a methodology is used focused on patients reconditioning the brain through a game of mirrors. Patients put aside their normal members, and in the mirror, they see the reflection of the existing member as if it were the lost member as if it had returned; then he asks them to think that they are ordering a movement to their missing member and do the same on their healthy member”.

A real case of syndrome improvement

A specialist like PrimeCare describes the case of a patient who, after having suffered the amputation of her right arm and having persistently suffered from phantom limb syndrome, had undergone multiple reconstructive operations that had failed to solve the problem.

It was then that he went to the Pain Unit, where, thanks to treatment with analgesics and sensory conditioning therapy with mirrors, the pain disappeared, and, although the sensation has not completely disappeared, his quality of life and his self-esteem.