Phantom limb pain: theories and therapies

Neurologist. 2010 Sep;16(5):277-86. doi: 10.1097/NRL.0b013e3181edf128.


Background and objective: Since the beginning of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of military service members with single and multiple-limb amputations. Phantom limb pain (PLP) frequently develops in these individuals. As a result, identifying the best methods to treat PLP is critical. The review highlights areas of inquiry related to phantom pain, with a focus on PLP.

Review summary: This review discusses phantom sensations and phantom pain that arise after amputation of a body part, and summarizes the differences between the 2 conditions. Characteristics of PLP are also discussed, including the onset, duration, and location of PLP. Theories explaining the etiology and presence of PLP are reviewed, along with the numerous treatment options reported in the published data for such pain, including the use of mirrors for treating pain. We conclude with a description of one military hospital's experiences with PLP.

Conclusions: Although more research has been done in previous years, this review identifies the need for continuing investigations. The etiology of PLP needs to be determined through more vigorous investigation, and a focus must be placed on defining treatment options in addition to mirror therapy that will improve the quality of life of those who suffer from this condition.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Afghanistan
  • Amputation / adverse effects
  • Animals
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Iraq
  • Military Personnel
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Pain Management
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain* / physiopathology
  • Phantom Limb* / etiology
  • Phantom Limb* / physiopathology
  • Phantom Limb* / therapy