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Pain After Surgical Amputation

Home » Pain After Surgical Amputation
November 19, 2015
Edward Smith

phantomThere is often residual pain after surgical amputation.  Some of the most common reasons for an amputation are: trauma, such as vehicle accidents or combat injuries, and complications from diabetes or vascular disease.  In most cases involving non-amputation surgery, patients have some post-surgical pain which is a normal part of the healing process.  The pain usually lessens as tissues repair themselves.  In cases of surgical amputation, however, the decrease of pain may not be the case.  Certainly there is the typical reduction in acute post-surgical pain, but amputees often continue to experience lingering sensations.  Those sensations may be painful, but they aren’t always.  Some patients simply describe the sensations as annoying and strange.

There are different types of sensations reported by amputees.  Each may be treated in a different manner.  It is important for a patient to describe the sensations to his or her doctor in order to get the most beneficial medication or therapy.


Phantom pain or phantom sensations are so named because it feels as though the missing limb still exists.  Often this occurs with arm and leg amputations, but it is not uncommon for mastectomy patients to have sensations where the breast was removed.  Reports of phantom pain following amputation date back to the Civil War, where surgeons documented a rate of as high as 90% of amputees reporting the sensations.  More advanced surgical techniques have reduced this amount, but the number is still as high as 70%, and in some cases the phantom pain can be severe.  Most amputees experience some sort of phantom sensations within the first six months after the surgery.


“Telescoping” is an odd sensation where the missing limb is still in place, but feels as though it has been shrunken to a very small size, like a collapsed telescope.  This sensation is very common and is not associated with pain..


This type of post-amputation discomfort occurs in the remaining part of the limb, or “stump”.  Because nerves are cut at the site, it is possible that a neuroma can develop.  Also prosthetics can cause pain at the residual limb site.


There are several different techniques used to manage post-amputation pain, depending on the level of discomfort and type of pain.  The techniques include but are not limited to very specialized forms of physical therapy, local injections, oral analgesics, and brain or nerve stimulation and therapy.  


Surgeons and post-surgical medical staff should make the amputation patient aware that these post-amputation sensations are common and that there are ways to address them.  This is less of a problem than it used to be.  It was once common for patients to not seek help for phantom pain, as they were logically aware that the limb no longer existed and were fearful that a medical provider might question their sanity.  Thankfully, this is no longer an issue, as the well-known side effects are heavily documented.  

I’m Ed Smith, an East Sacramento personal injury attorney with the most informative and comprehensive accident site on the internet,  If you or someone you know has been injured in an automobile accident due to the negligence of another driver, please feel free to call me for free and friendly advice at (916) 921-6400.  If you are outside of the Sacramento region, call toll free at (800) 404-5400.