Injury Spotlight: Phantom Limb Pain

Phantom Limb Pain: Then

The first medical description of phantom limb pain was given in the 1500’s by a French military surgeon, who noticed that patients would report severe pain in the missing limb following amputation (Nikolajsen L, & Jensen TS. 2001). Throughout history there are many other reports in medical literature and in popular literature of similar sensations.

Captain Ahab in his final chase with Moby Dick

Captain Ahab in his final chase with Moby Dick

Notably in the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Captain Ahab and one of his shipmates discuss the topic of phantom pain, as it related to the captains amputation.

Carpenter: “I have heard something curious on that score, sir; how that a dismasted man never entirely loses that feeling of his old spar, but it will still be pricking him at time.”

Ahab: “Look, put thy live leg here in the place where mine once was; so, now, here is only one distinct leg to the eye yet two to the soul. Where thou feelest tingling; there, exactly there, there to a hair, do I. Is’t a riddle?”

Phantom Limb Pain: Now

All these years later and we are just beginning to understand some of the pathological processes associated with phantom limb pain. Which has lead to advancements with the management of phantom limb pain. Most rehabilitation programs consist of cognitive based therapy, mirror box therapy, and graded activity with virtual reality.

More to Explore

Research Links

Collins et al. (2018). A review of current theories and treatments for phantom limb pain. J Clin Invest.

Leskowitz, E.D. (2000). Phantom limb pain treated with therapeutic touch: a case report. Arch Phys Med Rehabil.

Leskowitz, E. (2014). Phantom limb pain: an energy/trauma model. Explore (NY).

Nikolajsen L, & Jensen TS. (2001). Phantom limb pain. Br J Anaesth.

Petersen et al. (2018). Phantom limb pain: peripheral neuromodulatory and neuroprosthetic approaches to treatment. Muscle Nerve.

Ramachandran, V.S., Rogers-Ramachandran, D. (2000). Phantom limbs and neural plasticity. Arch Neurol.