Most people who've had a limb removed report that it sometimes feels as if their amputated limb is still there. This painless phenomenon, known as phantom limb sensation, can also occur in people who were born without limbs. Phantom limb sensations may include feelings of coldness, warmth or itchiness or tingling — but should not be confused with phantom pain. Similarly, pain from the remaining stump of an amputated limb is not phantom pain. By definition, phantom pain feels as if it comes from a body part that no longer remains.

Characteristics of phantom pain include:

  • Onset within the first few days of amputation
  • Tendency to come and go rather than be constant
  • Usually affects the part of the limb farthest from the body, such as the foot of an amputated leg
  • May be described as shooting, stabbing, boring, squeezing, throbbing or burning
  • Sometimes feels as if the phantom part is forced into an uncomfortable position
  • May be triggered by weather changes, pressure on the remaining part of the limb or emotional stress
Oct. 27, 2011

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