Phantom Limb Pain

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About Phantom Limb Pain

General Information

  • Phantom limb pain involves a painful sensation in an extremity that has been amputated.
  • Virtually all limb amputees have phantom sensations; a much smaller group has phantom pain.
  • About 5 percent to 10 percent of amputee patients seek medical care for phantom pain. The condition is more common among those who lose a limb at an older age.


  • Phantom limb pain may develop immediately after injury or may develop weeks, months, or even years later.
  • Symptoms vary from a continuous cramping, aching and burning, to intermittent pain that feels like an electric shock.
  • Stress, anxiety, fear or fatigue will usually aggravate the problem.


  • The best initial treatment involves addressing psychological and environmental factors that increase the pain.
  • Anticonvulsant medications have moderate success but should be discontinued if pain fails to improve.
  • Neurosurgical treatments include surgery to block pain signals in the brain, to remove nerve tissue growths in the stump, and to stimulate peripheral nerves, the spinal cord, and the brain. All surgical therapy carries risks and should be used only if other treatments fail to ease the pain.


  • Phantom limb pain usually persists long-term despite attempts at medical management.
  • Most procedures have a less than 30 percent success rate one year later.