Early Symptoms of Phantom Pain

The early symptoms of phantom pain appear within the first few days following the amputation of a limb – though it is also rarely possible in people who were born without a limb. Phantom pain involves pain feeling as if coming from an absent body part; it should not be confused with phantom limb sensation – which is painless – or with pain in the remaining stump.

Phantom pain symptoms include:

·         Sharp or shooting pain.

·         Achy pain.

·         Burning pain.

·         Cramping pain.

·         Squeezing pain.

·         Throbbing pain.

·         May feel as if the missing limb is being forced into an uncomfortable position.

The pain can either come and go or be continuous, and is often felt in the part of the limb that used to be farthest from the body. By way of contrast, the symptoms of phantom limb sensation include the following:

·         Tingling.

·         Pricking.

·         Numbness.

·         Heat or cold.

·         Feeling like missing fingers or toes are moving.

·         Feeling like the missing limb is still there or in an odd position.

·         Feeling like the missing limb is getting shorter.

Phantom pain is often traced back to the brain and spinal cord. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) have shown activity in parts of the brain that were neurologically connected to the nerves of the amputated limb. However, the exact cause why some people experience this condition remains unclear. Certain risk factors have been identified, though.

Risk factors for phantom pain

Pain before amputation.

People who had pain in a limb prior to amputation are more likely to experience pain afterward as well. The brain stores the pain and continues sending pain signals even though the limb is not there anymore.

Stump pain

People with lingering stump pain tend to have phantom pain.

Ill-fitting prosthesis

Artificial limbs should fit properly and put on correctly lest they cause phantom pain.


Additionally, some things may trigger and worsen phantom pain, such as:

·         Fatigue.

·         Placing too much pressure on the stump or remaining parts of the arm or leg.

·         Weather changes.

·         Stress.

·         Infection.

·         Poor circulation.

·         Swelling in the remaining part of the arm or leg.

A doctor can diagnose this condition by gathering information about the early symptoms of phantom pain, as well as the circumstances preceding the onset of pain. Fortunately, there are several approaches available to treat phantom pain.

Phantom pain treatment alternatives





N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists.

The patient can also ask the physician if they can take OTC pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen.

Non-invasive therapy

Nerve stimulation as delivered by TENS units.

A device called mirror box that makes it look like the amputated limb is still there.


Minimally invasive therapy

Injected painkillers.

Spinal cord stimulation.

Nerve blocks.


Brain stimulation.

Stump revision or neurectomy.


In addition to prescription treatment, the person can take it upon themselves to find ways to lessen or at least get their minds off the pain. Examples include:

·         Distractions (reading, listening to music).

·         Relaxing (a warm bath – though not too hot lest the pain is aggravated –, rhythmic breathing, meditation, visualization).

·         Taking good care of the stump (tapping, rubbing, or massaging it).

·         Taking off or putting on prosthesis, as the case may be.

·         Wearing an elastic bandage if the remaining part is swollen.

·         Wearing a shrinker sock or compression stocking.

·         Contact the Amputee Coalition for information on its National Peer Network.

It would not be a bad idea to consult a doctor on a few of those ones just to be on the safe side.

Related: TENS 3000 Walkthrough and Review