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Pain. 2000 Jul;87(1):33-41.

Phantom pain and phantom sensations in upper limb amputees: an epidemiological study.

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Department of Rehabilitation, University Hospital Groningen, Netherlands.


Phantom pain in subjects with an amputated limb is a well-known problem. However, estimates of the prevalence of phantom pain differ considerably in the literature. Various factors associated with phantom pain have been described including pain before the amputation, gender, dominance, and time elapsed since the amputation. The purposes of this study were to determine prevalence and factors associated with phantom pain and phantom sensations in upper limb amputees in The Netherlands. Additionally, the relationship between phantom pain, phantom sensations and prosthesis use in upper limb amputees was investigated. One hundred twenty-four upper limb amputees participated in this study. Subjects were asked to fill out a self-developed questionnaire scoring the following items: date, side, level, and reason of amputation, duration of experienced pain before amputation, frequencies with which phantom sensations, phantom pain, and stump pain are experienced, amount of trouble and suffering experienced, respectively, related to these sensations, type of phantom sensations, medical treatment received for phantom pain and/or stump pain, and the effects of the treatment, self medication, and prosthesis use. The response rate was 80%. The prevalence of phantom pain was 51%, of phantom sensations 76% and of stump pain 49%; 48% of the subjects experienced phantom pain a few times per day or more; 64% experienced moderate to very much suffering from the phantom pain. A significant association was found between phantom pain and phantom sensations (relative risk 11.3) and between phantom pain and stump pain (relative risk 1.9). No other factors associated with phantom pain or phantom sensations could be determined. Only four patients received medical treatment for their phantom pain. Phantom pain is a common problem in upper limb amputees that causes considerable suffering for the subjects involved. Only a minority of subjects are treated for phantom pain. Further research is needed to determine factors associated with phantom pain.

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