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Caroline Feldman's picture

Phantom Limbs

I was intrigued to learn more about phantom limbs after class on Thursday. I have heard of the term in other psychology classes that I have taken, but have not had the opportunity to explore the issue more fully. Not only do those who have had a limb amputated feel sensations in their phantom limb, but also children who are born without a limb at all. This suggests “that perception of our limbs is ‘hard-wired’ into our brain” (Cole, Jonathon. “Phantom Limb Pain” The Welcome Trust. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/en/pain/microsite/medicine2.html). Therefore, it is probable that our brain is the cause of the phantom limb because it is still receiving signals from the area around the limb. People continue to feel and perceive the missing limb, and often feel strong pain that must be treated with prescription pain killers. The most difficult thing about losing the limb is usually not in dealing with the reduced quality of life, immobility, or feelings of low self-esteem, but rather the pain itself.

In order to reduce the pain suffered by those with a missing limb, neurologists Ramachandran and Rogers-Ramachandran created a device called the mirror box. (http://www.23nlpeople.com/brain/Phantom.html)
Essentially, the patient looks at the side of the mirror with his good limb and sees a reflection. Thereby in his/her mind, they have two good limbs because of what they see in the reflection. When the patient moved their good limb, they were “fooled” into believing that it was their amputated arm that had moved, which seemed to have reduced the pain in many patients. It has been suggested that attempts like these to link “the visual and motor systems might be helping patients recreate a coherent body image, and so reduce pain as a result of reduced and disordered input”. (http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/en/pain/microsite/medicine2.html). The brain must be re-trained in order to alleviate the pain felt by these patients, and has therefore become the main source of looking for treatment.

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