Whenever soldiers have returned from war and the horrors of an amputation, they have complained of pain that seems to be emanating from the body part that is no longer there. In earlier times, doctors believed this was a psychological problem, but that thinking has changed. Now experts such as Dr. Trujillo recognize that these sensations of pain originate in the spinal cord and in the brain.
Phantom pain is a real thing and Dr. Trujillo treats returning soldiers and others who’ve had amputations at Summit Healthcare Pain Clinic Associates.
What are the symptoms of phantom pain?
These are the typical characteristics that occur when a patient is experiencing this kind of pain:
- Onset within the first week after amputation, although the onset can also be delayed by months
- Pain can be constant or irregular in occurrence
- Symptoms affect the part of the limb at the farthest extremity, for instance the foot with an amputated leg
- Pain is described as shooting, stabbing, cramping, pins and needles, crushing, throbbing, or burning
What causes phantom pain?
The exact cause of phantom pain isn’t known, but research seems to point to it coming from the spinal cord and the brain. MRIs have shown portions of the brain that had been neurologically connected to the nerves of the amputated limb show activity when the person feels phantom pain.
The pain is also thought to be a response to mixed signals in the brain. When a limb is amputated, the brain no longer receives input from the limb and it adjusts in unpredictable ways. One of these responses can be pain, which is the basic signal that something is not right.
Other studies show that the brain remaps that part of the body’s sensory circuitry to another part of the body after an amputation. The missing limb can’t receive sensory information, so it is routed elsewhere. For an amputated hand, for instance, the sensory information could be referred to the cheek. When the patient’s cheek is touched, he senses that the missing hand is also being touched.
Finally, it’s also believed that damaged nerve endings, scar tissue at the site of the amputation, and the physical memory of the pain prior to the amputation all play a role in the development of phantom pain.
There are a variety of methods Dr. Trujillo may employ when treating phantom pain. These range from medications such as N-methyl-d-asparate receptor antagonists that block a protein that seems to relay nerve signals to acupuncture to electrical nerve stimulation, among others.
If you’re experiencing phantom pain after an amputation, you don’t need to feel embarrassed that people will think this is a psychological issue. Dr. Trujillo has treated many patients with phantom pain and he knows it is anything but “phantom.”
Please call us at (928) 532-1605 to make an appointment.