When someone loses a body part to amputation, he or she may experience residual, aka “phantom,” limb sensation. It’s the feeling that the body part is still present – whether after a major limb amputation, surgical removal of a finger or even following a mastectomy. Although the body part is gone, leftover physical feelings are quite common and very real. While much remains to be learned about the science behind these phantom sensations, help is available now to quell the discomfort – so people should speak up if they’re having these symptoms.
Almost everyone experiences phantom sensations after an amputation, says Dr. Jack Tsao, a professor of neurology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis. Although outright phantom pain is less common than milder phantom sensations, between 85 and 95 percent of U.S. patients experience phantom pain at some stage during their lives after amputation, Tsao says.