Phantom limb pain (PLP) refers to ongoing painful sensations that seem to be coming from a part of a limb that has been amputated. While the limb or part of the limb is gone, the pain in that region is real. The pain occurs soon after the amputation surgery and may be constant or intermittent. It may start as pins and needles and increase in severity to become a shooting, stabbing, cramping, crushing, burning, or throbbing pain. It is believed that PLP develops as a response to mixed signals from the brain and spinal cord. After amputation of a body part, the brain and the spinal cord lose sensory input from the missing limb and adjust to this change by triggering pain. Damaged nerve endings or scar tissue at the amputation site also contribute to phantom pain.
For most patients, the sensation of pain fades on its own, but for others, it may last weeks to months after the surgery. Patients are treated with pain relievers, acupuncture, spinal cord nerve stimulation. In severe cases, surgical options include deep brain stimulation.
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