Phantom limb syndrome is the sensation that an amputated or missing limb (even an organ, like the appendix) is still attached to the body and is moving appropriately with other body parts.
Approximately 80% of individuals with an amputation experience phantom sensations in their amputated limb, and the majority of the sensations are painful. The pain is real, even though the limb or digit is no longer there. Doctors generally believe the pain is due to miscommunications in the central nervous system following the amputation…and fortunately, this is not the best answer. The pain is not imagined, it is not coming from your brain, and it can be made to go away!
What Happens when a Limb is Amputated
When a lower limb is amputated, the medical team uses a saw to cut the bones of the tibia and fibula a few inches below the knee. Then the muscles in the back of the leg are brought around to the front and tacked to the front of the bone. This provides muscle and fat to insulate the skin of the stump from pressure of the bone inside the prosthesis that would cause the skin to break down.
The injured muscles and fascia retained in the stump refer pain to the lower leg, ankle, and foot. This injured fascia does not care that there is no foot.
So called phantom limb pain is really myofascial pain from the surviving myofascia in the thigh and stump. It is not from inflamed nerve endings sending goofy signals to the brain.
What’s more important is phantom limb pain can go away without drugs, killing nerves, or performing invasive surgery.
These same things apply to above knee and upper extremity amputations the same way.
As always, if you have a sudden onset of pain that is debilitating, or comes with fever, swelling or nausea/vomiting, you should seek medical attention immediately, as these could be signs of a threatening infection or blood clot.
Treatments for Phantom Limb Pain
Because most often this pain is caused by tissue trauma, a number of holistic therapies can be most effective for relieving your phantom limb pain:
- Massage therapy to release knotted or spasming muscles
- Trigger point injections
- PRP therapy
- Mindfulness techniques
There is also a combination psychological-physical therapy used for phantom limb pain called mirror therapy. Mirror therapy includes exercising in a mirror while focusing on the remaining limb. For instance, if you had one arm amputated at the elbow, in mirror therapy you would do bicep curls in the mirror and focus on the arm that is still whole. Mirror therapy can trick your brain back into thinking that both arms are still there, which can lessen the suspected neural miscommunication and subsequently, the pain.
How does Dr. Blatman Approach Treatment for Phantom Limb Syndrome?
At the end of the day, one of the only things you can truly believe is what you can touch and feel. AND where you are specifically tender, millimeter by millimeter, usually counts more than anything else anyone has ever told you about your pain.
At our centers, we can find and show you the injuries to your fascia that have occurred through your lifetime, and then show you what has to happen for these injuries to heal and your pain to go away.
Once you understand this new paradigm that is the Blatman Method for Understanding and Treating pain, you will be a big part of getting out of pain. As we learn where you and your body need extra help, we have many tools and tricks to get your body to do the healing it needs to do and struggles to achieve.