Phantom Limb Pain

Phantom limb pain is a complex pain condition experienced in an amputated limb, where the brain continues to receive pain signals from nerves that originally carried impulses from the missing limb.

The basics

Phantom Limb Pain (PLP) is a medical condition that occurs when an individual feels pain in a limb that has been amputated or is no longer present. This condition is a common occurrence after amputations and can be extremely painful and debilitating for the individual. The exact cause of PLP is still unknown, but it is believed to be related to the way the brain processes pain signals. For some people, the brain continues to receive signals from the missing limb, which can result in the sensation of pain.

Phantom Limb Pain can affect anyone who has had a limb amputated or is born without a limb. This condition can occur immediately after the amputation or can develop weeks, months, or even years later. The severity of PLP can vary greatly from person to person, with some individuals experiencing mild discomfort and others experiencing severe pain.

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Phantom Limb Pain (PLP) involves (typically) unpleasant sensations experienced in a missing limb. These symptoms include:

  • Pain perceived as originating from the amputated limb
  • A range of pain types, such as burning, aching, stabbing, or shooting
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Cramping or muscle spasms
  • Sensations of the missing limb being in an uncomfortable or unnatural position
  • A sense of pressure or tightness in the limb

PLP can occur either sporadically or constantly, with intensity ranging from mild to severe. Some individuals might also experience phantom sensations, including itching, temperature changes, or the feeling of the limb moving, despite its absence.

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Therapies & treatments

Psychological Therapies

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Helps individuals identify and change negative thought and behavior patterns contributing to PLP.
  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): Involves mindfulness meditation and yoga to help manage pain and stress.
  • Exposure Therapy: Assists individuals in confronting and overcoming their fear of pain by gradually exposing them to painful sensations in a controlled environment.

Physical Therapies

  • Mirror Therapy: Uses mirrors to create a visual illusion of the missing limb, which can help alleviate PLP.
  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS): Uses a small electrical device to stimulate nerves in the affected area, reducing pain.
  • Acupuncture: Involves inserting fine needles into specific body points to promote Qi flow and alleviate pain.


  • Antidepressants: Certain types of antidepressants can effectively manage PLP by altering the brain's processing of pain signals.
  • Anticonvulsants: Commonly used to treat epilepsy; can help alleviate nerve pain.
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Self-care strategies

Mind-Body Practices

  • Engage in meditation and deep-breathing exercises to manage stress and anxiety, which can worsen PLP.
  • Participate in movement therapies like yoga and tai chi to improve flexibility, strength, and reduce pain perception through endorphin release, helping individuals feel more in tune with their bodies and manage stress.

Avoid Triggers

  • Identify and avoid triggers, such as cold temperatures, tight clothing, or certain movements, to reduce or eliminate pain.
  • Maintain a pain diary to identify and avoid activities that trigger PLP, helping individuals gain control over their pain.


  • Massage the residual limb to reduce muscle tension and promote circulation, alleviating pain.
  • Use warm towels or heat packs before massaging to relax the muscles and enhance comfort.


  • Employ mindfulness techniques, like body scans, to increase awareness of bodily sensations, enabling better pain management.
  • Practice mindfulness during daily activities, such as sitting or walking, to focus on the present moment and decrease stress.

Sleep Hygiene

  • Ensure adequate quality sleep to improve overall health and reduce stress, which can alleviate PLP.
  • Implement good sleep hygiene practices, including establishing a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine before bedtime, and creating a relaxing sleep environment, to promote restful sleep.

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Phantom Limb Pain

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