126. Phantom Pains

26 May

Amputation is a very significant thing, it involves removing some part of you, whether the simplest type which involves removing a tooth up to the amputations of full on limbs such arms and legs. This is significant for how you feel things, there is simply nothing there, sometimes the brain just refuses. It causes the part where the amputated part was to still feel sensations, as if it were still there and moving with the rest of the body. Even though there is nothing there.

This is called having a Phantom Limb, it is when your brain insists that the amputated part is still there. Around 70% of Amputees experience some form of this, feeling sensations in amputated parts of the body. Fortunately the sensations become more infrequent with time and eventually disappear – in most cases. Why is it fortunate? The sensations are almost always painful; people who have teeth removed can feel the non-existent tooth still ache. Phantom Eye syndrome is when you get pain in an eye which has been removed and is another example of this Phantom Pain.

The most famous cases though, are with amputated arms. In these cases the phantom limbs often feel shorter than normal and they feel tense. As though some alien force were pinning the ghostly limb into a single position until it ached and burnt. In some extreme and blissfully rare cases the pain is constant, even staring at the stump remaining does nothing, the brain doesn’t recognise it, just saying ‘Arm is not responding, it must be clenched! It must be painful.’

Herein lies the greatest problem of phantom pains. There is no control, the amputee will obviously know that they don’t have the limb anymore, but regardless of how hard they try, no difference is made, the older parts of the brain respond to neither logic nor reason. Until the primitive brain realises it, the amputees must suffer at its expense. Fortunately for those suf

Tricking the brain and controlling a phantom limb

fering the relentless phantom pains there is a simple solution. A mirror. By showing a reflection of the remaining arm, the primitive part of the brain says ‘Oh look, my arm’ then comes the neat part. When patients clench and relax the remaining arm, the brain says that the phantom limb relaxes, and so the pain is relieved. By using these amazing mirror boxes the phantom pains can be relieved and eventually removed given time and repeated mirror usage.

So we are lucky, these pains can now be removed and amputation is all the better for it. Though the true problem remains, we cannot control the brain nearly as much as we think we can. It controls us. Even enough to make us feel pain in a long lost limb.

Further Reading


Posted by on May 26, 2011 in Articles, Trivia


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