phantom arm limb

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Phantom limb pain

After one of your limbs is amputated , you may feel as if the limb is still there. This is called phantom sensation. You may feel:

  • Pain in your limb even though it is physically not there
  • Hot or cold
  • Like your missing toes or fingers are moving
  • Like your missing limb is still there, or is in a funny position
  • Like your missing limb is getting shorter (telescoping)

What to Expect

These feelings slowly get weaker. You should also feel them less often. They may not ever go away completely.

Pain in the missing part of the arm or leg is called phantom pain. You may feel:

  • Sharp or shooting pain
  • Burning pain
  • Cramping pain

Some things may make phantom pain worse, such as:

  • Being too tired
  • Putting too much pressure on the stump or parts of the arm or leg that are still there
  • Changes in the weather
  • An artificial limb that does not fit properly
  • Poor blood flow
  • Swelling in the part of the arm or leg that is still there

Try to relax in a way that works for you. Do deep breathing or pretend to relax the missing arm or leg.

Reading, listening to music, or doing something that takes your mind off the pain may help. You may also try taking a warm bath if your surgery wound is completely healed.

Ask your health care provider if you can take acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), or other medicines that help with pain.

The following may also help lessen phantom pain.

  • Keep the remaining part of your arm or leg warm.
  • Move or exercise the remaining part of your arm or leg.
  • If you are wearing your prosthesis, take it off. If you are not wearing it, put it on.
  • If you have swelling in the remaining part of your arm or leg, try wearing an elastic bandage.
  • Wear a shrinker sock or compression stocking.
  • Try gently tapping or rubbing your stump.

Alternative Names

Amputation - phantom limb

Bang MS, Jung SH. Phantom limb pain. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation . 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 108.

Dinakar P. Pain management. In: Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, Newman NJ, eds. Bradley and Daroff’s Neurology in Clinical Practice . 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022: chap 52.

Waldman SD. Phantom limb pain. In: Waldman SD, ed. Atlas of Common Pain Syndromes . 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 103.

  • Leg or foot amputation

Patient Instructions

  • Bathroom safety for adults
  • Controlling your high blood pressure
  • Diabetes - foot ulcers
  • Foot amputation - discharge
  • Leg amputation - discharge
  • Leg or foot amputation - dressing change
  • Managing your blood sugar
  • Preventing falls
  • Surgical wound care - open

Review Date 5/2/2022

Updated by: Amit M. Shelat, DO, FACP, FAAN, Attending Neurologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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COMMENTS

  1. Phantom Limb Pain: What is It, Causes, Treatment & Outcome

    The phantom part refers to the location of the pain: the missing limb or part of the limb (such as fingers or toes). Phantom limb pain ranges from mild to severe and can last for seconds, hours, days or longer. It may occur after a medical amputation (removing part of a limb with surgery).

  2. Phantom Limb Pain After Amputation: Causes & Treatments - WebMD

    Researchers don’t know exactly what causes phantom limb pain. One possible explanation: Nerves in parts of your spinal cord and brain “rewire” when they lose signals from the missing arm or ...

  3. Phantom limb - Wikipedia

    A phantom limb is the sensation that an amputated or missing limb is still attached. Approximately 80–100% of individuals with an amputation experience sensations in their amputated limb. However, only a small percentage will experience painful phantom limb sensation ( phantom pain ).

  4. It’s not ‘Star Wars’-level tech yet, but doctors get a step ...

    Phantom limb pain is a common problem for people who undergo amputation, and so is the ability to function even with a regular prosthetic, but a medical advance that sounds like it comes...

  5. Phantom Pain Symptoms, Causes, Medications, and Treatments

    The pre-amputation pain and the postoperative deafferentation are the risk factors of phantom limb pain: A clinical survey in a sample of Chinese population. https://bmcanesthesiol.biomedcentral ...

  6. Phantom limb syndrome | Causes, Treatment & Symptoms

    phantom limb syndrome, the ability to feel sensations and even pain in a limb or limbs that no longer exist. Phantom limb syndrome is characterized by both nonpainful and painful sensations.

  7. What is a Phantom Limb? - News-Medical.net

    A phantom limb is a vivid perception that a limb that has been removed or amputated is still present in the body and performing its normal functions. Amputees usually experience sensations...

  8. Phantom limb pain: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

    Pain in the missing part of the arm or leg is called phantom pain. You may feel: Sharp or shooting pain Achy pain Burning pain Cramping pain Some things may make phantom pain worse, such as: Being too tired Putting too much pressure on the stump or parts of the arm or leg that are still there Changes in the weather Stress Infection