How Common Is Phantom Limb Pain After an Accident?

Published on Nov 11, 2022 at 9:59 am in Personal Injury.
How Common Is Phantom Limb Pain After an Accident?

Phantom limb pain (PLP) is a condition that can occur after an amputation. In some cases, PLP is so severe that it can make life unbearable for the amputee. Unfortunately, phantom limb pain is still not fully understood by medical professionals, and there are few treatments available that offer relief from the discomfort this condition causes. 

Below, we’ll address how common phantom pain is after an accident. If you are suffering from phantom limb pain after an accident, you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries. Contact an amputation lawyer today to learn more about your legal options; with their help, you can seek compensation for your medical bills, pain and suffering, or disability. 

What Is Phantom Limb Pain? 

While we’ve already shared that phantom limb pain is a condition that can occur after an amputation, it’s important to know how common this debilitating condition can be. According to Cleveland Clinic,  an estimated 80% of amputees experience phantom limb pain in some form or another.  

This condition can be debilitating and frustrating, as those suffering from it often experience some of the same symptoms someone with an injured limb would, except for the fact that an amputee clearly no longer has that damaged body part. Medical professionals have only recently begun to understand PLP, and many unknowns surrounding this diagnosis still exist. 

Three types of phantom pain affect patients, including: 

  • Phantom Limb Pain:  This is the most common type of phantom pain. PLP is “pain in a limb that has been amputated.” The pain can feel like burning, twisting, itching, pins and needles, crushing pain, or pressure. 
  • Stump Pain: This condition may result in pain confined to the remaining body part after the amputation occurs. 
  • Phantom Limb Sensation: A sensation in the phantom limb, such as pressure, itching, or temperature changes, may afflict amputees, giving way to the sensation that the limb is still attached. 

Amputations resulting in phantom limb pain often stem from personal injury incidents, such as car accidents, truck crashes, compression or crush injuries, medical malpractice, and more. Mississippi law may allow you to recover compensation depending on the circumstances surrounding your Biloxi case. An amputation lawyer such as Corban Gunn, Attorney at Law can provide you with additional guidance after reviewing your case. 

What Causes Phantom Limb Pain? 

Many doctors speculate on the cause of PLP, but the exact cause is still unknown. Most theories center around the connection between the spinal cord and the brain. For instance, when doctors perform magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or positron emission tomography (PET) scans on portions of the brain connected to the amputated limb, they are often active when the patient is enduring a bout of PLP.  

Phantom limb pain is likely a response to mixed signals from the brain. For example, when an amputation occurs, the connection between the different brain and spinal cord areas is impacted in strange ways.  

Even odder about PLP is that the brain will attempt to re-map the body’s sensory information. For example, the nerves associated with the phantom limb are often re-absorbed into the body map, leading to sensations in other body parts. It’s difficult to determine where the brain will re-map the nerve sensations, but patients often feel pain from the newly re-mapped nerves. 

There are some common occurrences with amputation that are believed to contribute to phantom pain: 

  • A poorly fitting prosthesis 
  • An infection in the amputated limb 
  • Nerve damage during the amputation surgery
  • The development of a neuroma (a mass of nerve tissue) 
  • The physical memory of pre-amputation pain in the amputated area 

Risk Factors for Developing Phantom Limb Pain 

Some patients are more likely to suffer phantom pain due to specific risk factors, including: 

  • Pre-amputation pain: Unfortunately, the brain holds on to the memory of the pre-amputation pain in the affected area. It constantly sends signals to the phantom limb that something is wrong. 
  • Age: Phantom pain is more common in older patients. Children have a lower incidence rate of PLP than adults. 
  • Comorbidities: Phantom pain is more likely in patients with other conditions, such as diabetes. 
  • Traumatic amputation: Phantom pain is more likely when the amputation was not planned, such as in the case of an accident. 
  • Upper extremities: Phantom pain is more likely in patients who have lost an arm or a hand. 
  • Amputation on both sides: Phantom pain is more likely when both sides have been amputated, such as a bilateral leg amputation. 

Diagnosis and Treatment of Phantom Limb Pain 

If you’re feeling phantom limb pain, the first step is to visit your doctor. They will likely ask you about your medical history and perform a physical examination. You may also need to undergo tests, such as MRIs or X-rays, to rule out other conditions. 

Once your doctor has diagnosed you with PLP, they will work with you to create a treatment plan. Phantom limb pain treatment aims to lessen the symptoms and improve your quality of life. Unfortunately, studies from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicate that amputees with PLP have a lower quality of life, especially those belonging to the 18-38-year-old and 60-80-year-old categories. Anxiety and depression from the impairment tend to significantly impact their daily lives. 

Fortunately, many phantom limb pain treatments are available, but often a combination of treatments is necessary to achieve the best results. Patients often see the most success in phantom limb pain management during the treatment phase, but that’s also when most people give up. Successful pain management can take months or years, cost significant amounts of money, and require significant effort. 

Some phantom limb pain treatments include: 

  • Acupuncture and massage 
  • Mirror box therapy, virtual reality therapy, and biofeedback 
  • Acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs 
  • Narcotic pain medications 
  • Antidepressants 
  • Beta-blockers and muscle relaxants 
  • Experimental treatments (like targeted muscle reinnervation) 

What Is Targeted Muscle Reinnervation? 

If you’ve tried other phantom limb pain treatments with little success, your Biloxi, MS doctor may recommend an experimental treatment called targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR). TMR is a surgical procedure that aims to reorganize nerves post-amputation. 

During the operation, the surgeon will “reroute” the nerves from the phantom limb to other muscles in your body. For instance, if an amputee lost a hand, the surgeon would reroute the nerves from the phantom hand to the chest or nearby muscles. This type of treatment is often paired with myoelectric prosthetic devices. Then, when the patient thinks about moving their phantom limb, signals are sent to the rerouted nerves, activating the myoelectric device. 

Amputees often experience decreased phantom limb pain or neuroma development after TMR surgery. With over 185,000 amputations performed yearly, treatments like TMR will hopefully become the standard. Unfortunately, many amputees still don’t have access to this treatment, nor do they receive such a hopeful prognosis. 

When Treating Phantom Pain Doesn’t Work 

Treatments often help lessen phantom limb pain, but some patients continue to experience phantom limb pain even after treatment. If this is the case for you, it’s not uncommon to struggle with pain management. Finding a phantom limb pain support group or talking to a counselor about how you feel is crucial. 

It’s also important to understand that phantom limb pain is real, even if you can’t see it. Many people think phantom limb pain is “all in your head,” but that’s not the case. Phantom limb pain is a natural phenomenon with a physical cause, and because of the genuine pain, some amputees may be able to receive compensation with the assistance of an amputation attorney. 

Speak With a Dedicated Amputation Lawyer 

If you’ve been in an accident and lost a limb, phantom limb pain may be something you must deal with for the rest of your life. Phantom limb pain can be incredibly debilitating, preventing you from working and enjoying your life. However, if another person’s negligence caused your phantom limb pain, you might be able to receive compensation for your tangible damages, such as medical bills and lost wages, as well as nonmonetary ones, such as pain and suffering. Get in touch with your local amputation lawyer, Corban Gunn, Attorney at Law, today to understand your rights for compensation following your accident-related amputation that occurred here in Biloxi. 



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