Pain, Phantom Limb

  • William H. Sweet
Part of the Readings from the Encyclopedia of Neuroscience book series (REN)


Phantom limb pain refers to pain in two situations. In the first, a limb has been amputated accidentally or surgically, and the person continues to feel as though some or all the nonexistent limb is still present and hurting. In the second, most frequent when the living limb is largely denervated, the person feels as though the limb is in a different position from that of the actual structure. This occurs with denervation by injury to enough peripheral nerves, with avulsion of the nerve rootlets from the cord as in major brachial plexus injuries, with total transverse lesions of the entire cord in paraplegics, and finally, but much less often, with thalamic lesions. The manifestations in the two situations are different, and this discussion is confined to the first group who have had actual amputation. Ambroise Paré described “a thing wondrous strange and prodigious . . . patients who have many months after the cutting away of the leg, grievously complained that they yet felt exceeding great pain of that leg.” Although nearly 100% of amputees have sensations referred to the missing limb, there is gross disagreement on the percentage who have frank pain.


Phantom Limb Phantom Limb Pain Thalamic Lesion Root Entry Zone Phantom Pain 
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Further reading

  1. Carlen PL, Wall PD, Nadvorna H, Steinbach T (1978): Phantom limbs and related phenomena in recent traumatic amputations. Neurology 28:211–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Jensen TS, Krebs B, Nielsen J, Rasmussen P (1983): Phantom limb, phantom pain and stump pain in amputees during the first 6 months following limb amputation. Pain 17:243–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Sherman RA, Sherman CJ, Parker L (1984): Chronic phantom and stump pain among American Veterans: Results of a survey. Pain 18:83–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. White JC, Sweet WH (1969): Pain and the Neurosurgeon: A Forty Year Experience. Springfield: Charles C Thomas, pp 68–86Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Boston, Inc. 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • William H. Sweet

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