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Concept: Phantom pain


Phantom pain after arm amputation is widely believed to arise from maladaptive cortical reorganization, triggered by loss of sensory input. We instead propose that chronic phantom pain experience drives plasticity by maintaining local cortical representations and disrupting inter-regional connectivity. Here we show that, while loss of sensory input is generally characterized by structural and functional degeneration in the deprived sensorimotor cortex, the experience of persistent pain is associated with preserved structure and functional organization in the former hand area. Furthermore, consistent with the isolated nature of phantom experience, phantom pain is associated with reduced inter-regional functional connectivity in the primary sensorimotor cortex. We therefore propose that contrary to the maladaptive model, cortical plasticity associated with phantom pain is driven by powerful and long-lasting subjective sensory experience, such as triggered by nociceptive or top-down inputs. Our results prompt a revisiting of the link between phantom pain and brain organization.

Concepts: Brain, Structure, Cerebral cortex, Pain, Amputation, Organization, Phantom limb, Phantom pain


PURPOSE: The purposes of this descriptive study were (a) to identify the relative frequencies of a priori categories of phantom limb pain (PLP) quality descriptors reported by Mid-Southerners with limb loss, (b) to analyze their descriptions for emerging categories of PLP, and © to identify the relative frequencies of the emerging categories. DESIGN: This cross-sectional descriptive verbal survey assessed PLP descriptors. A content analyses determined relative frequencies of a priori PLP descriptors as well as emerging categories that were identified. FINDINGS: The most common a priori PLP quality descriptors reported by 52 amputees with PLP were intermittent, tingling/needles/numb, sharp, cramping, burning, and stabbing. The most common emerging categories reported were pain compared to illness/injury, electrical cyclical, and manipulated/positional. CONCLUSION: The detailed descriptions of PLP provide insight into the vivid experiences of PLP. CLINICAL RELEVANCE: Rehabilitation nurses can use this information with PLP assessment, patient teaching, and counseling.

Concepts: Amputation, Proprioception, Phantom limb, Phantom pain, Illusion, Mirror box, Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, Cortical homunculus


The clinical use of mirror visual feedback was initially introduced to alleviate phantom pain by restoring motor function through plastic changes in the human primary motor cortex. It is a promising novel technique that gives a new perspective to neurological rehabilitation. Using this therapy, the mirror neuron system is activated and decrease the activity of those systems that perceive protopathic pain, making somatosensory cortex reorganization possible. This paper reports the results of the mirror therapy in three patients with phantom limb pain after recent lower limb amputation, showing its analgesic effects and its benefits as a comprehensive rehabilitation instrument for lower limb amputee geriatric patients.

Concepts: Medicine, Syndromes, Pain, Amputation, Proprioception, Phantom limb, Phantom pain, Mirror box



We characterized the effect of virtual visual feedback (VVF) on supernumerary phantom limb pain (SPLP) in a patient with high cervical cord injury. The subject was a 22-year-old man diagnosed with complete spinal cord injury (level C2) approximately 5 years ago. We applied the ABA'B' single-case design and set phases B and B' as intervention phases for comparison. SPLP significantly improved in comparison of phase A with phase B and phase A with phase B'. We suggest that VVF reduces SPLP and the effect lasts after VVF.

Concepts: Spinal cord, Amputation, Spinal cord injury, Proprioception, Audio feedback, Phantom limb, Phantom pain, Mirror box


This article discusses neuropathic pain of traumatic origin affecting the trigeminal nerve. This syndrome has been termed painful traumatic trigeminal neuropathy by the International Headache Society and replaces atypical odontalgia, deafferentation pain, traumatic neuropathy, and phantom toothache. The discussion emphasizes the diagnosis and the early and late management of injuries to the trigeminal nerve and subsequent painful conditions.

Concepts: Rheumatoid arthritis, Pain, Cranial nerves, Acupuncture, Toothache, Peripheral neuropathy, Phantom pain


Following amputation, individuals ubiquitously report experiencing lingering sensations of their missing limb. While phantom sensations can be innocuous, they are often manifested as painful. Phantom limb pain (PLP) is notorious for being difficult to monitor and treat. A major challenge in PLP management is the difficulty in assessing PLP symptoms, given the physical absence of the affected body part. Here, we offer a means of quantifying chronic PLP by harnessing the known ability of amputees to voluntarily move their phantom limbs. Upper-limb amputees suffering from chronic PLP performed a simple finger-tapping task with their phantom hand. We confirm that amputees suffering from worse chronic PLP had worse motor control over their phantom hand. We further demonstrate that task performance was consistent over weeks and did not relate to transient PLP or non-painful phantom sensations. Finally, we explore the neural basis of these behavioural correlates of PLP. Using neuroimaging, we reveal that slower phantom hand movements were coupled with stronger activity in the primary sensorimotor phantom hand cortex, previously shown to associate with chronic PLP. By demonstrating a specific link between phantom hand motor control and chronic PLP, our findings open up new avenues for PLP management and improvement of existing PLP treatments.

Concepts: Neuroscience, Pain, Amputation, Suffering, Proprioception, Phantom limb, Phantom pain, Mirror box


The experience of post-amputation pain such as phantom limb pain (PLP) and residual limb pain (RLP), is a common consequence of limb amputation, and its presence has negative effects on a person’s well-being. The continuity hypothesis of dreams suggests that the presence of such aversive experiences in the waking state should be reflected in dream content, with the recalled body representation reflecting a cognitive proxy of negative impact. In the present study, we epidemiologically assessed the presence of post-amputation pain and other amputation-related information as well as recalled body representation in dreams in a sample of 3,234 unilateral limb amputees. Data on the site and time of amputation, residual limb length, prosthesis use, lifetime prevalence of mental disorders, presence of post-amputation pain, and presence of non-painful phantom phenomena were included in logistic regression analyses using recalled body representation in dreams (impaired, intact, no memory) as dependent variable. The effects of age, sex, and frequency of dream recall were controlled for. About 22% of the subjects indicated that they were not able to remember their body representation in dreams, another 24% of the amputees recalled themselves as always intact, and only a minority of less than 3% recalled themselves as always impaired. Almost 35% of the amputees dreamed of themselves in a mixed fashion. We found that lower-limb amputation as well as the presence of PLP and RLP was positively associated with the recall of an impaired body representation in dreams. The presence of non-painful phantom phenomena, however, had no influence. These results complement previous findings and indicate complex interactions of physical body appearance and mental body representation, probably modulated by distress in the waking state. The findings are discussed against the background of alterations in cognitive processes after amputation and hypotheses suggesting an innate body model.

Concepts: Psychology, Regression analysis, Amputation, Proprioception, Phantom limb, Phantom pain, Dream, Kanye West


Postamputation pain (PAP) is highly prevalent after limb amputation but remains an extremely challenging pain condition to treat. A large part of its intractability stems from the myriad pathophysiological mechanisms. A state-of-art understanding of the pathophysiologic basis underlying postamputation phenomena can be broadly categorized in terms of supraspinal, spinal, and peripheral mechanisms. Supraspinal mechanisms involve somatosensory cortical reorganization of the area representing the deafferentated limb and are predominant in phantom limb pain and phantom sensations. Spinal reorganization in the dorsal horn occurs after deafferentataion from a peripheral nerve injury. Peripherally, axonal nerve damage initiates inflammation, regenerative sprouting, and increased “ectopic” afferent input which is thought by many to be the predominant mechanism involved in residual limb pain or neuroma pain, but may also contribute to phantom phenomena. To optimize treatment outcomes, therapy should be individually tailored and mechanism based. Treatment modalities include injection therapy, pharmacotherapy, complementary and alternative therapy, surgical therapy, and interventions aimed at prevention. Unfortunately, there is a lack of high quality clinical trials to support most of these treatments. Most of the randomized controlled trials in PAP have evaluated medications, with a trend for short-term Efficacy noted for ketamine and opioids. Evidence for peripheral injection therapy with botulinum toxin and pulsed radiofrequency for residual limb pain is limited to very small trials and case series. Mirror therapy is a safe and cost-effective alternative treatment modality for PAP. Neuromodulation using implanted motor cortex stimulation has shown a trend toward effectiveness for refractory phantom limb pain, though the evidence is largely anecdotal. Studies that aim to prevent PA P using epidural and perineural catheters have yielded inconsistent results, though there may be some benefit for epidural prevention when the infusions are started more than 24 hours preoperatively and compared with nonoptimized alternatives. Further investigation into the mechanisms responsible for and the factors associated with the development of PAP is needed to provide an evidence-based foundation to guide current and future treatment approaches.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Randomized controlled trial, Alternative medicine, Amputation, Proprioception, Phantom limb, Phantom pain, Mirror box


This article examines the material culture of neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran’s research into phantom limbs. In the 1990s Ramachandran used a ‘mirror box’ to ‘resurrect’ phantom limbs and thus to treat the pain that often accompanied them. The experimental success of his mirror therapy led Ramachandran to see mirrors as a useful model of brain function, a tendency that explains his attraction to work on ‘mirror neurons’. I argue that Ramachandran’s fascination with and repeated appeal to the mirror can be explained by the way it allowed him to confront a perennial problem in the mind and brain sciences, that of the relationship between a supposedly immaterial mind and a material brain. By producing what Ramachandran called a ‘virtual reality’, relating in varied and complex ways to the material world, the mirror reproduced a form of psycho-physical parallelism and dualistic ontology, while conforming to the materialist norms of neuroscience today.

Concepts: Mind, Reality, Proprioception, Phantom limb, Phantom pain, Mirror box, Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, Dualism