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Phantom Pain - also known as Phantom Limb Pain (PLP) - is pain felt in a body-part which has been surgically removed or lost due to injury.
For amputees and those who've suffered limb-loss accidents it's extremely common - over 80% experiencing it at some stage. It can be persistent over many years. The pain, which can be severe, seems to originate at the location of the now-absent amputated part, rather than at the so-called 'stump' of the limb. The condition is poorly understood - especially as any peripheral nerve fibres which were present in the amputated part are obviously no longer there.
First hypothesized in 1551, the disease has been poorly understood for much of this time. Still today, the exact etiology of the condition is yet to be elucidated. In the periphery, PLP resembles the neuronal changes seen in other neuropathic pain conditions. However, in the central nervous system (CNS), imaging studies suggest changes unique to PLP, such as cortical reorganization. Despite a growing understanding of its underpinnings, a mechanism-based treatment is not yet available. Rather, a plethora of treatment methodologies are available with varying levels of supporting evidence and many treatments being utilized based on efficacy seen in non-PLP patients.
Source : Current Understanding of Phantom Pain and its TreatmentPain Physician, 25(7):E941-E957.
Some early theories suggested that the pain might be purely psychological, arising as a result of the trauma of amputation or injury - but fMRI brain studies now largely discount those ideas.
Drug treatments, identical to those which would be used to treat pain in an injury to a 'real' body part, are often effective.
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