Phantom limb syndrome is the feeling of sensations in a limb that has been removed. The limb may feel as though it is still attached to the body. This is because the brain continues to get messages from nerves that used to "feel" for the missing limb.
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The exact cause is not known. It is thought that the feelings happen because the brain must rewire itself to adjust to the changes in the body.
This problem is more common in adults. Other things that may raise the risk are:
The symptoms are felt in a limb that is no longer there. Phantom limb syndrome may cause sensations of:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will also be asked questions about your amputation. This is often enough to diagnose phantom pain.
Phantom limb syndrome is often brief. It can pass on its own over time. Some people may have lasting pain that is hard to manage. There is no one treatment plan that is best. Treatment will be chosen to help control specific symptoms. Options are:
Medicine that may be given to manage symptoms include:
Electrical nerve stimulation may help calm nerve signals. Examples are:
There are no known methods to prevent this health problem.
Amputee Coalition of America
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
The War Amps of Canada
Richardson C, Kulkarni J. A review of the management of phantom limb pain: challenges and solutions. J Pain Res. 2017;10:1861-1870.
Lower extremity amputation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/procedure/upper-extremity-amputation-15. Accessed September 15, 2021.
Upper extremity amputation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/procedure/upper-extremity-amputation-15. Accessed September 15, 2021.
Last reviewed July 2021 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Mary-Beth Seymour, RN
Last Updated: 9/15/2021