There are no words to describe the sense of loss, pain, and confusion associated with the amputation of a limb. The emotional despair is even stronger in individuals who lost a limb as the result of an accident. One moment they were a complete person, and then when they wake up from surgery, a part of them is missing. A young man who had his leg crushed in an accident woke up in his hospital bed with one of his English students holding his hand and telling him not to look down because he lost something. This young man had his left leg amputated a few inches above the knee. Every time he looked down, every time the stump was cleaned, every time stump was drained, he had a painful and visual reminder that part of his leg was gone. But he still felt his leg. He was experiencing what over 80 percent of amputees experience- phantom limb pain.
Understanding Phantom Limb Pain
As its name implies, phantom limb pain is mild to extreme discomfort in the area where a limb has been amputated. Even though the limb is not there, the nerve endings at the site of the amputation are sending signals to the brain. This makes the brain believe that the limb is still there. In some cases, the brain remembers what it felt like to feel pain in the amputated limb, and so any signals sent from the nerves around the amputated limb are interpreted as pain.
Phantom limb pain can take on several very intense characteristics. The pain may feel like a stabbing, burning, cramping, or throbbing sensation. If you are dealing with phantom pain, there may be times when you feel like the amputated area is being squeezed, as if it is tingling, or as if there is the sensation of shooting pain.
Phantom limb pain is unique, with no two patients experiencing it the same way. Sufferers often describe the phantom pain as more intense than the non-phantom pain they felt before in their limbs. Phantom pain is sporadic, it cannot be predicted.
Time and experience has shown us that phantom pain is unique and that it can be dealt with is by closely listening to our patients. When you describe your pain, we are going to pay close attention because we want to determine what it is you are truly experiencing. With this information, we can best develop a pain management program that suits you.
A phantom limb pain sufferer said that he was in agony in the weeks following his amputation. He described it as jolts that could be compared to being electrocuted with a cattle prod. It felt as if his non-existing toes were clenched together in an excruciating way. It left him writhing so violently in pain that he was constantly banging his head against the side of the hospital bed. The young man was reduced to tears.
The Emotional Toll of Phantom Limb Pain
Dealing with phantom limb pain can be more challenging when medical professionals do not adequately understand what it is. One young man who had his leg amputated was told by the doctor prior to the surgery that he would not feel any phantom pain. When he saw the doctor after surgery, he told him, “You lied to me!”
The doctor insisted that his body was adjusting to the change and that the pain would go away. The pain did not go away at all.
The emotional trauma of losing a limb is only amplified by the fact that medical professionals do not always believe the phantom limb pain that their patient is feeling is real. Many individuals comment that they can still feel injuries that they had on their missing limb as if it was still there.
How We Can Help
Over the past few years, we have had the amazing experience of being able to work with some resilient individuals who have learned to restore their quality of life after an amputation. We have heard how phantom limb pain has made the recovery process difficult for them. We listen to their concerns, and it has helped us to create individualized treatment programs for each one of our patients.
We understand that there is a lot of mystery surrounding phantom limb pain. So we do not presume to know what is going on in your particular circumstance. We will not create a treatment program until we have listened to you. We know that the pain you are experiencing is real, it is agonizing, and it is taking a physical and emotional toll on your life.
You have our guarantee that we will not stop working with you until we can help you create a short-term and long-term pain management program. When you leave our office, you are going to know what the process is that we will follow. You will know what is going to be required of you to make the most out of your pain management program.
We will not insult you by presenting you with a one-size-fits-all phantom limb pain treatment. The treatment you will get is uniquely designed for you.
Don’t let phantom limb pain rob you of another moment of your life. Let us work with you to help you to get the pain under control and get back to living the life you deserve.