Homme debout qui a une de ses jambes amputée et remplacé par une prothèse

Phantom limbs and their pains

Sep 30, 2021

Pain felt by phantom limbs

After an amputation, the majority of patients have the illusion that the amputated limb is still present . They may feel pain in this non-existent limb.

feeling of pain

Usually this feeling gradually decreases over time. But sometimes it persists more or less throughout the life of the amputee , and can be reactivated by a stump injury or other accident. These phantom limb sensations are not limited to amputated limbs. In some women after breast removal, phantom breast sensations can be found. The same is true for the genitals after castration. It can also be the entire lower part of the body after a section of the spinal cord, for example. Phantom limb sensation is also common after local anesthesia . During anesthesia of the nerves that innervate the arm, very often the patient feels the presence of an entire phantom arm which is intact, but in a completely different location than that of the real arm. Surprisingly, if the patient looks at the position of their real arm, the phantom arm seems to snap back into the real arm, which they can leave and return to, intermittently, as the anesthesia wears off. . These strange observations show that there is a separation between the peripheral nerves and the central part of our brain .

Person putting a bandage on another person's amputated leg

Chronic Pain

These phantom pains are mainly manifested by tingling or burning sensations in the amputated part. But sometimes these pains can be much more violent, which increasingly handicaps the patient. Phantom limb pain is even the most common cause of chronic pain , which is extremely difficult to treat.

Reorganization of neurons

After an amputation, neurons in the patient's brain reorganize. Those who were sensitive to limbs that were amputated will evolve to respond to tactile stimuli from other parts of the body. One can for example observe this surprising consequence, that a touching of the face is felt as if it had been made on the missing limb. This phenomenon is also found in children who are born without a limb . They also have abundant phantom sensations even though they never had limbs. This observation suggests that there is a complete representation of the body within the brain completely independent of the peripheral nerves that run through our limbs. This also testifies to the extreme complexity of our brain .

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