Phantom Limb

Man with prosthetic armPhantom limb occurs when a person whose limb has been amputated still feels sensations from the limb such as pain and itching. In some cases, these sensations can be so strong that the person experiencing the condition denies that the limb is gone.

What Causes Phantom Limb?
Doctors still are not sure of what causes phantom limb. However, people with phantom limb who undergo MRIs show brain activity in parts of the brain connected to the amputated limb. The brain, then, is making the person feel like pain is occurring that is not actually due to an external stimulus. Further, because amputated limbs are often damaged or injured, the brain may respond to amputation by sending pain signals. Pain is an important part of keeping the body healthy because it compels action, and when a limb is no longer there, the brain may become confused and produce pain.

How is Phantom Limb Treated?
There is no specific treatment protocol for phantom pain, and there is no way to predict who will develop phantom limb and who will not. Support from others may help people deal with the adjustment to an amputated limb, and proper stump care can help reduce pain. People who know that their limb is going to be amputated well in advance may have more time to adjust to the idea and in some cases may have better outcomes. Medications including Calcitonin and Ketamine may reduce the pain of a phantom limb in some cases.

Some people experiencing phantom limb develop anxiety or depression as a result. Psychotherapy and, occasionally, psychoactive drugs, can help people cope with symptoms or depression or anxiety. Recent amputees may also need help developing coping skills and adjusting to life without a limb. When people have a strong support network they tend to adjust better to amputation and cope more effectively with phantom limb when it occurs.


  1. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2011, October 27). Phantom limb. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from

Last Updated: 08-17-2015

  • Leave a Comment
  • Robbie M

    May 8th, 2015 at 10:44 PM

    I was telling my kids this the other day. If father’s only had hindsight 20 / 20

  • Taylor G

    May 8th, 2015 at 11:00 PM

    Cool site, didnt expect an article like this.

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