Treatment Options for Phantom Limb Syndrome
Phantom limb syndrome is a complex condition that is still being studied by neurologists and pain specialists in the medical community. The condition is usually associated with an amputation and is present where the previous limb was located. With symptoms ranging in intensity from mild tingling to debilitating pain, phantom limb can have a profound effect on a patient’s quality of life.
Though the complete cause of phantom limb syndrome is still unknown, most medical professionals agree that it occurs in part due to the nerve endings at the site of amputation sending tricky messages to the brain. The brain interprets that the limb is still present, which triggers the pain response.
Fortunately, some treatment options have been devised that can be very successful in treating the symptoms of phantom limb syndrome. Here are three of the most popular.
Acupuncture is derived from holistic eastern medicine and involves a trained practitioner inserting extremely fine stainless steel needles into the skin at specific locations. The needles act to stimulate the central nervous system and release endorphins—the body’s natural pain killers. When performed correctly, acupuncture can reduce many types of chronic pain, including that associated with phantom limb syndrome.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulations, also called TENS, is a nerve stimulation technique than can often interrupt pain signals before they reach the brain. The treatment is delivered through adhesive patches on the skin near where the pain originates. A weak electrical current is sent from the machine to the patches, causing a noticeable yet not painful sensation. TENS units can be sent home with the patient, making this a therapy that is practical and relatively inexpensive.
Mirror therapy is becoming more common to treat those with phantom limb syndrome and is especially successful in those who have had a leg amputation. In this simple therapy, a patient sits with a mirror facing his or her remaining leg. The patient is instructed to move the remaining leg and watch the reflection of the movement in the mirror. This gives the illusion that their amputated leg is present and moving once again. Though it’s unknown why the therapy is successful in many cases, there is solid proof that mirror therapy decreases the painful sensations that many with phantom limb syndrome experience.
The above three treatments are usually a good place to start for anyone with phantom limb syndrome because they are minimally or non-invasive and do not require the patient to take opioids or other pain reducing medication. They can often be paired with more intensive treatment if needed.
If you are experiencing phantom limb syndrome or have questions about other chronic pain, please visit our website today.