Phantom Limb Pain: Myths vs Facts

Phantom Limb Pain: Myths vs Facts

Phantom limb pain is a type of phantom limb sensation (PLS). It is the perception of pain or discomfort in a limb, even if that limb is actually missing.

Because this phenomenon is still considered somewhat mysterious outside the medical field, many laymen have misconceptions on what’s true about phantom limb pain.

Here are some myths about phantom limb pain, and what the facts actually are:

Phantom Limb Pain Is Purely Imaginary

It’s true that a large part of phantom limb pain originates from the brain, the pain is very real and not your mind playing tricks on you.

Research conducted through imaging scans have shown that the sections of the brain which are connected to the nerves of an amputated limb become active when pain occurs.

There are a complex layer of factors that may result in experiencing phantom limb pain, such as nerve damage. So no, it’s not all in your head.

Phantom Limb Pain Is Always Painful

Different amputees can experience phantom limb pain in different ways.

There are several symptoms that may come and go, or are constant, depending on the individual. These include:

  • Stabbing pains in region around the missing limb
  • A feeling of the limb being twisted or crushed
  • A sensation of either heat or coldness
  • Various degrees of throbbing and cramps

Some of these symptoms can be quite painful, though in many cases the amputee may simply feel different levels of discomfort.

Phantom Limb Pain Occurs Immediately Post-Amputation

For context, phantom limb pain occurs most commonly after amputation of a limb. Some people believe that if an amputee does not experience phantom limb pain almost immediately after an amputation, they wouldn’t experience it at all in the future.

This is a misconception. While many, if not most, amputees do experience this phenomenon soon after their procedure, there are exceptions. For some individuals, phantom limb pain may occur months – or even years – after their amputation.

Regardless of when you start experiencing phantom limb pain, if ever, it’s important to consult a medical professional if and when it happens.

Phantom Limb Pain Cannot Be Treated

One might assume that medical assistance for this is meaningless, due to the misconception that phantom limb pain cannot be cured.

It’s true that there isn’t a surefire and permanent treatment method, considering that this phenomenon still isn’t fully understood.

That said, there are several ways of providing relief, such as through opioid medications like morphine and hydrocodone.

Simple therapies such as utilising frequent touch — rubbing or massages, for example — can help acclimate or desensitize the nerves around an amputated limb.

This, in turn, can minimize the occurrence of phantom limb pain. Of course, any treatment methods take time before yielding either temporary or long-term results.


Pain Care Management (2019) 4 Facts About Phantom Limb Pain [Accessed 11 February 2024] Available at:

Anthony Echo (2022) Myths and Facts About Phantom Limb Pain [Accessed 11 February 2024] Available at:

Christina Lasich (2012) Facts About Phantom Limb Pain [Accessed 11 February 2024] Available at: