Phantom-limb pain: characteristics, causes, and treatment

Lancet Neurol. 2002 Jul;1(3):182-9. doi: 10.1016/s1474-4422(02)00074-1.


Phantom-limb pain is a common sequela of amputation, occurring in up to 80% of people who undergo the procedure. It must be differentiated from non-painful phantom phenomena, residual-limb pain, and non-painful residual-limb phenomena. Central changes seem to be a major determinant of phantom-limb pain; however, peripheral and psychological factors may contribute to it. A comprehensive model of phantom-limb pain is presented that assigns major roles to pain occurring before the amputation and to central as well as peripheral changes related to it. So far, few mechanism-based treatments for phantom-limb pain have been proposed. Most published reports are based on anecdotal evidence. Interventions targeting central changes seem promising. The prevention of phantom-limb pain by peripheral analgesia has not yielded consistent results. Additional measures that reverse or prevent the formation of central memory processes might be more effective.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Pain, Postoperative / etiology*
  • Pain, Postoperative / physiopathology
  • Pain, Postoperative / psychology
  • Pain, Postoperative / therapy*
  • Phantom Limb / etiology*
  • Phantom Limb / physiopathology
  • Phantom Limb / psychology
  • Phantom Limb / therapy*