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Phantom Pain and Its Treatment

Jenny L.F. Andrus, MDBy Jenny L.F. Andrus, MD

In my last blog post, I discussed the possible causes of phantom pain and the medications that are commonly used to treat those symptoms.  In this post, I will talk about other treatments that offer relief from phantom pain.

Using medications is not the only treatment that I can recommend. Sometimes, very simple treatments can be effective, such as the use of a heating pad or a massage of the affected area. Distraction techniques, such as interest in a hobby or activity, can be helpful.  Joining a support group can be of great benefit.  Psychological counseling, biofeedback, relaxation and mirror-box techniques can all be used to help the patient understand their pain and help the brain “learn” that the limb no longer exists.  Physical therapy helps to retrain muscles, improve endurance and prevent injury. Acupuncture has also been found to be effective for relieving chronic pain.

There are various means of electronically stimulating nerves to provide pain relief, by means of a TENS unit or Spinal Cord Stimulator.  A TENS unit is worn outside the body and is controlled by the patient to provide a counter-stimulation to the affected area.  The patient can turn it on and off at will, adjusting the strength and intensity.  For those patients with intractable pain, a Spinal Cord Stimulator may be tried.  This provides electrical stimulation to the area of the spinal cord where the nerves are located that correspond with the phantom limb pain.  The goal is to replace the pain sensation with a more pleasant feeling such as tap or buzz.  It too, can be controlled by the patient and adjusted as needed.

Phantom Limb Pain can be challenging to treat. However, working in partnership with your Interventional Pain Management Specialist can provide you with the best chance at reducing your pain and living a great life.

Jenny L. Andrus, MD is a Board-Certified, Fellowship-trained Interventional Pain Management Specialist with Orthopaedic and Spine Center in Newport News, VA.  To schedule an appointment with Dr. Andrus, please call 757-596-1900.

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