Today makes it the first time I’ll be sharing something here ever since I got you. It’s all because I need a place to pour my feelings all out on.
I’m pretty aware that you aren’t human but for the next few minutes of my writing, I’m counting you as one. Ever had a time in your life when you’ve ever been great at something, been best at something? Perhaps a little moment of glory when you’ve felt on top of the world? Yeah! That used to be her, until it all changed.
Chasing A Ghost
It was two days to her sixteenth birthday when her right leg got amputated. This occurred after an accident in which the vasculature to the leg got severed and could not be saved.
It was so hard on her considering that ever since she was a child, gymnastics was all she ever wanted to do. She had ranked number one at the future stars nationals the previous year, and was going to the Rio Olympics. She was supposed to be the next champion. Suddenly, she wasn’t next anymore. Want to know who ‘she’ is? I am she. She is me. Now, I’m nothing. I’m number zero. So yeah, my life seems over at 16.
As if having my leg amputated was not enough, I started experiencing tingling, cramping and sometimes excruciating pains in my non-existent limb. So much for losing my leg at a young age…
So, I’ll say I’m going through what no one has to go through. I’m left at the mercy of when there’s life, there’s hope. But can that take me far in life?
Oh no! Dear diary, I can hear the horn of my mom’s car, a signal for me to get out. She booked me an appointment with a doctor to try out a treatment option for the pain I never signed up for. I hope it works.
Got to go. Byeeee!”
Phantom Limb Syndrome
Phantom limb syndrome is a condition in which patients experience sensations, mostly painful, in a limb that does not exist. It is a perception that an amputated limb is still present in the body and performing its normal functions.
The term phantom does not mean that the pain is imaginary or in the patient’s head. Besides, about 80% of amputees can still feel their limb as a lifelike complete part. What then causes it?
The exact cause of phantom pain seems unclear, but experts have stated it appears to come from the spinal cord and brain. How was that proven? During imaging scans, portions of the brain that had been neurologically connected to the nerves of the amputated limb, showed activity when the person feels phantom pain.
After an amputation, areas of the spinal cord and brain lose input from the limb and adjust to this detachment in unimaginable ways. At the site of amputation, nerve endings get thickened and become more sensitive, more than ever before. This triggers the body’s most basic message that something is not right: pain.
Moving further, studies have shown another logical explanation. Within the nervous system, there is a representation of the human body, mapped inside the brain. Does the word homunculus ring a bell? Yes, that’s it!
Metaphorically, we have a little man dedicated to processing motor and sensory functions, for different parts of the body.
Mechanisms of Phantom Limb Syndrome And Treatment Approach
When a hand is amputated, its neurons are still functional within the cerebral cortex but deprived of sensory input. Without stimulation from the hand itself, the neurons sometimes start responding to neighboring signals. In this case, the closest signals come from the face since it is closer to the hand.
That is why for some amputees, touching the face can create a feeling in the phantom fingers. Trickling water down the face of an amputee can even feel like water trickling down the phantom hand.
Concerning homunculus, the area devoted to a body part can grow or shrink due to how much sensory input the brain receives. This can be seen in those that play the violin. The representation of the left hand is larger in violinists than in non-violinists, since the former uses that hand more.
In a few words, that is responsible for the amputees feeling a lost limb because they are still well represented in the brain. The good part is that the representation in the brain might eventually shrink and the pain disappears, with time though.
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The mirror box therapy is a safe and effective technique that uses vision to transmit information to the brain, thereby tricking the brain out of pain.
There are still questions about the phantom limb. Especially why some amputees feel the phantom pain and some do not. Life is filled with twists and turns though, and questions we may never get answers to.
About the Author
Writer: Ogunmola Hannah
University of Medical Sciences, Ondo State, Nigeria.
Hannah is a writer who is skilled at conveying not just messages, but emotions through words. She has always loved writing and she perfectly fits her medical knowledge into her articles.
You can be rest assured of fascinating and insightful articles, as long as you watch out for her contents.
All in all, Hannah’s write-ups are a perfect description of engaging, lucid and enlightening.