Phantom pain is pain that feels like it’s coming from a body part that’s no longer there, such as a foot or hand that has been amputated or otherwise lost. The exact cause of phantom pain is unclear, but it appears to originate in the spinal cord and brain.
Many pain experts believe phantom pain may be partially explained as a response to mixed signals from the brain. In simpler terms, the nerve endings at the site of the amputation continue to send pain signals to the brain, which then make the brain think the limb is still there.
The following factors increase the chance of developing phantom limb syndrome:
• Preamputation pain. If there was pain in the limb before it was removed, a patient is more likely to experience phantom pain afterward.
• Previous damage to spinal cord or peripheral nerves that supplied the affected limb.
• Adults are affected more commonly than children.
Fortunately some cases of phantom limb following amputation are brief and infrequent. For those patients who suffer from persistent pain, treatment can be challenging.