Phantom Limb Pain
Some children who have been born without a limb or who have had a limb amputated feel pain in the non-existent body part. This is often called phantom pain. This pain is caused by damaged nerves from the amputated limb that continue to send signals to the brain. These signals are interpreted as pain.
The Pediatric Pain Management Center at Children’s Health offers children and parents a specially trained team that evaluates and treats chronic pain, acute pain and headaches. Our interdisciplinary approach involves many other specialties to treat pain using multiple approaches at once. The Center can help lessen the pain associated with a variety of diseases and disorders including, but not limited to, chest and back conditions, nerve injuries, rheumatologic conditions, sports injuries and cancer. We also have a dedicated headache clinic for those children suffering from headaches.
While the pain your child experiences is not caused by an actual injury, the sensations are very real and can include burning or shooting pain, achiness or cramping, or pins-and-needles feelings. Phantom limb pain is a well-recognized pain syndrome for which treatment is available.
Tests and Diagnosis
To diagnose phantom limb pain, your child’s provider will do a detailed physical exam of your child. Your provider will want to know about the type of pain or sensation and when it is typically experienced. If your child experiences phantom limb pain after an amputation, the provider will also want to know about the circumstances of the removal of the limb.
Phantom limb pain can disappear on its own. But for pain that is experienced over time, a specific treatment plan will be created based on your child’s symptoms, level of pain and age. Multiple phantom pain treatments may be combined and can include:
- Pain relievers – over-the-counter or prescription
- Anti-seizure or anti-depressant medications, which can ease neuropathic pain
- Topical creams or patches
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Mirror therapy
- Desensitization therapy
- Psychological counseling
- Electrode nerve stimulation
- Lifestyle changes, such as weight loss or activity modifications
- Massage therapy
- Nerve blocks
What causes phantom limb pain?
While the pain your child experiences is not caused by an actual injury, the sensations are very real. Following an amputation, there are still nerves present in the remaining portion of the limb and these nerves send pain signals to the brain and tell the brain that the limb is still present.
Will my child outgrow these phantom pains?
Phantom limb pain can resolve on its own with time. Over time, pain can interfere with your child’s quality of life and decrease physical function. Phantom limb pain is a well-recognized pain syndrome for which treatment is available.