Phantom pain sensation refers to a person’s feeling related to limbs or organs that are physically not a part of their body. For example, let’s say that a part of a person’s body, such as an arm, was amputated because of an accident. If the person has a phantom pain sensation, then he would feel pain in the position where his arm supposed to exist, even though he doesn’t have an arm (this particular phantom pain related to the limbs are called phantom limb pain).
Then why do these kinds of phenomenon occur? According to the scientists, when a part of a body is amputated, then the region of the brain that was needed for the control of that part of the body is no longer needed, and the neuronal system in the part of the brain falls into disarray. To fill the empty spots in the brain, those parts of the brain take over the tasks of the neighboring neurons and become rearranged to do different things. However, when the brain tries to adapt to the new situation, in some cases this process goes wrong, which eventually causes the phantom pain.
As you can see, there are no apparent causes of the phantom pain discovered by scientists because there might be other reasons other than the cerebral shifts such as inherited nerve damages. However, using fMRI, a method to distinguish the active parts of the brain while it’s working, scientists have discovered that degree of the shifts related to the functions in our brain caused by amputation (and many other factors) is directly proportional to the intensity of pain the patient receives through the phantom pain. Also, researchers found out that a person with a functional artificial limb has felt less phantom limb pain than the patients that do not have it.
Even though it might take some time, a cure for phantom pain keeps on developing as the researches related to phantom pain proceed. I hope that later, the patients would not suffer from their phantom pain, or, in my own words, “false pain.”
12 July, 2017 – Episode 627 – This Week in Science Podcast (TWIS)