How to deal with phantom limb pain – Orthotic & Prosthetic Specialists, Inc., LIVING WELL Magazine

What is Phantom Limb Pain?

By Michael Relle, CPO/FAAOP, Orthotic & Prosthetic Specialists, Inc., Northshore LIVING WELL Magazine

Phantom limb pain is used to describe sensations felt by amputees where the amputated limb has been located. It may include cramping, tingling, itching, pins-and-needles, stabbing pains, and or pressure. Most amputees experience this, but the intensity to which it is felt will vary. These sensations are intermittent and will come and go without warning. New amputees may have frequent and intense sensations several times a day, sometimes lasting for several hours. Over time, as the residual limb matures, these sensations will generally become less frequent and intense.

Almost immediately following an amputation, 90-98% of patients report experiencing a phantom sensation. The prevalence of phantom limb pain differs based on location. Current research suggest: Upper limb amputations report 82%, while lower limb amputations report 54%.  Although not scientifically justified yet, most investigators believe that the greater the level of amputation, the greater the incidence of moderate to severe phantom pain. For example, a trans-femoral (above the knee) amputee may experience more phantom pain relative to a trans-tibial (below the knee) amputee.

Various methods have been used to treat phantom limb pain. Some antidepressants and antiepileptics (AED’s) medications, prescribed by doctors, have been beneficial in reducing phantom limb pain. Frequently, physical methods such as light message, electrical stimulation, and hot/cold therapy have been used with variable results. Many of our patients suggest that simply donning (wearing) their prosthesis often helps to alleviate phantom limb pain. This is why prosthetic socket design and fit are imperative for successful outcomes. Many new socket interface materials have been designed throughout our industry specifically to treat phantom limb pain.

If you’re experiencing phantom limb pain, you may be a candidate for new prosthetic treatments. Please give our office a call. We have staff members ready and willing to assist you.

Michael Relle, CPO /FAAOP, is a certified orthotist prosthetist with Orthotic & Prosthetic Specialists, Inc. and may be reached at 985-898-6319 or at