What is Phantom Limb Pain?

Melanie Burden Personal Injury Solicitor
Author:
Melanie Burden
Partner, Head of Employer's Liability - Serious Injury
Date:
26/01/2022

Phantom limb pain is when someone experiences pain that seems to come from a limb or finger or toe that isn’t there because of an amputation. For most, phantom limb pain will be temporary and get better over time but this isn’t always the case. It is a recognised form of chronic neuropathic pain.

Our specialist major trauma team have helped many people get their lives back on track after they’ve had an amputation following a serious injury. We can help you access the compensation and rehabilitation you need to get through your phantom limb pain.

Get in touch with our Personal Injury Solicitors for a free claims assessment.

Call us on 0808 239 3227 or request a callback

What Causes Phantom Limb Pain? 

It’s not known exactly what causes phantom limb pain. When nerves are injured during an amputation, this can affect the brain’s ability to send messages to other parts of the body.

As nerves are used to pass messages from the brain to the limbs, a disruption to the nerves can cause the brain to become confused and create an illusion of a phantom limb. Medical research has shown that these sensations are in fact very real linked to the brain and spinal cord.

Even though the person with the amputation knows that the limb is no longer there, phantom limb pain feels very real and it can be very debilitating. Sadly, our experience is that many people suffering from phantom limb pains are not believed, and this can increase anxiety levels and depression.

Phantom limb pain symptoms can include:

  • Burning sensations
  • Stabbing pains
  • Pressure
  • Cramps
  • Pins and needles
  • Itching

Symptoms can vary from person to person, and they won’t always happen right after surgery. Even a partial amputation of a finger or toe can trigger phantom limb pain which can also be intense and disabling in its effects. 

As well as dealing with amputation injuries of the utmost severity, we also frequently act for people who have suffered intrusive phantom pain following the amputation of a finger or toe where we've successfully obtained a package of treatment and support and a high award of damages compensation.

If you’re still experiencing phantom limb pain following an amputation, please don’t suffer in silence. Contact us for a free claims assessment to see if we can help you get treatment for your phantom limb pain.

Treating Phantom Limb Pain

There are a range of different treatments you can try if you’re experiencing phantom limb pain.

Different people will find certain treatments more effective than others. A combination of different treatment is often needed to obtain optimum pain relief and help cope with the pain which is why it is important to seek expert legal advice if your injury has arisen from an accident that was not your fault. This will mean your solicitor can get you access to a programme of treatment specifically tailored to your needs.

Commonly used treatments and techniques include:

Medication

Depending on the type of pain you’re experiencing, your doctor may prescribe you medication to help ease your symptoms.

This might be:

  • A general painkiller such as paracetamol
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-seizure medication
  • Opioids, such as codeine or morphine
Compression Socks

Compression socks can be used to treat swelling and reduce phantom limb pain. The NHS also recommends the Relax Night Care Sock, which is designed to reduce pain by using electromagnetics. The sock can be worn overnight to relieve phantom limb pain.

Mirror Box Therapy

Mirror Box therapy contains mirrors which make it looks like the amputated limb still exists and the treatment is aimed to essentially trick the brain out of pain.

Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (RTMS)

This type of therapy uses magnetic pulses to target specific areas of the brain.

Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS)

Spinal cord stimulation can be an effective treatment to help manage the pain where painkillers are not providing sufficient relief.    

Spinal cord stimulation works by implanting a device under the skin which delivers low level electrical signals to the spinal cord to block pain signals from reaching the brain.

Desensitisation

If you’re considering getting prostheses (artificial limb) then desensitisation helps to prepare your limb. It involves touching, gently massaging and rubbing different fabrics against your limb to make it less sensitive to touch.  

Physiotherapy

If you’re experiencing problems with muscle weakness, stiffness or difficulty with balance and coordination, physiotherapy can help to improve your movement and pain.

Acupuncture

Many people report the benefits of acupuncture to help provide some relief to phantom limb pain.  Treatment is usually focused on the scalp to treat phantom limb pain.  The treatment works by altering the flow of energy through your body to  block the pain signals.

Psychological Therapy

We understand that the impact of an amputation can take its toll on your mental wellbeing. We can help arrange psychological therapy such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) if you’re struggling with the emotional side effects of an amputation.

How Can Simpson Millar Help You?

Our dedicated team of Personal Injury Experts have helped many people start to rebuild their lives after an amputation. We can talk to you about your specific situation, and make sure you’ve got the right support and treatment in place.

This may include:

  • Helping you access and fund any physical or psychological treatment you need
  • Putting you in touch with support groups
  • Arranging for you to get prostheses
  • Arranging for accommodation or home adjustments through an Occupational Therapist or Accommodation Expert
  • Helping you claim compensation if your injury was the result of an accident that wasn’t your fault. We can often deal with amputation claims on a No Win, No Fee basis – ask us for more details

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