What Is Phantom Limb Pain & How Do I Treat It?

Phantom limb pain or PLP occurs after someone has lost a limb to amputation or trauma. Some people continue to have a sensation of pain in that area even after the limb has been gone for years. It is very common in the first year as it affects up to 85% of patients after the initial surgery. Unfortunately, some amputees continue to deal with this intense pain for the long term. In fact as many of 60% of them will struggle with this condition past the first year.

Although we don’t really understand the full scope of PLP and where it comes from, it is believed that it may be the result of interrupted pain. These are signals which occur in the spinal cord and/or brain. These signals are constantly changing, causing the sufferer to feel pain in a limb that is no longer there.

The most common occurrences of this condition are in the arms or legs. Smaller appendages, though also affected in this manner, are not as frequent. In the early days of PLP, it was widely assumed that this was a psychological problem and therefore didn’t warrant much research or attention from the physical arena of medical science. Patients would often be referred to psychiatrists to seek help.

For so many years this was viewed as a mystery disease among experts. Since there was so much debate over whether the cause was mental or physical, very little progress was made in discovering ways to treat it. However, now that we understand that it is has to do with the activity of the nerve endings which were removed, there are some new and innovate therapies being tried, as well as numerous others in development and research.

Possible Causes of PLP

Since this condition is unique and unlike any other, identifying the cause or trigger can be very difficult. The current theory is that it is caused by the brain or spinal cord sending mixed or conflicting messages. The body interprets this as pain in the limb which is no longer there. However, some research suggests that it is triggered by certain conditions or activities including:

  • Touch
  • Cold or flu
  • Urination
  • Defecation
  • Herpes zoster
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Drop or rise in barometric pressure
  • Angina
  • Smoking

Possible Treatments for PLP


When finding a treatment for PLP, there are a few different options available. Some are more conventional, others more alternative. Regardless of what works best for you, the main thing is to find relief.


The traditional methods are usually the same as what you get with any other condition; medication. While anything which can provide any amount of pain relief may be worth a shot, you always want to find a more permanent solution when possible. With that being said, there has been some success in using medications associated with depression, epilepsy, and others to alter the chemicals in the body which send pain signals. Some of these medications include:

  • Anticonvulsants
  • Antidepressants
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs
  • Beta-blockers
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Opioids

Stem Cells

Some recent animal studies have produced a reduction in chronic neuropathic pain. While these results are encouraging, it is still in the research stage when it comes to whether or not it is a viable treatment for PLP. However, many early results have been encouraging.

Regenerative Medicine

One of the most exciting treatments for PLP, as far as potential is concerned is regenerative therapy. This method tries to avoid medications, steroid injections, as well as other band-aid solutions. Although it is more difficult to get to the root of the problem with this condition than it is with many others, there are a number of patients who have reported very positive results with this therapy.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of what type of treatment you settle on, if you suffer with phantom limb pain there is little doubt that you want to find something to help. The discomfort is bad enough when there is actually something there to feel it in, when you know that there is no longer a limb there and you are still experiencing pain, it can also take a psychological toll as well.

The health and wellness professionals here at the Pain Relief Institute know all too well about these things. Contact us today to find out how we can help you finally get some relief from this unfortunate condition.