Dealing with Pain After an Upper Limb Amputation
by Amber Henson, on Jun 29, 2020
An amputation results in new sensations in and around the amputated body part. Pain is a common experience after an amputation, but it does not have to be an obstacle to success in your recovery. There are some initial steps you can take to help you manage and decrease your pain. These steps should be taken in conjunction with the advice you receive from your doctor, prosthetist and clinical therapy specialist. Each person on your care team can provide you with individualized recommendations. The below list was crafted by our therapist team — be sure to bookmark our blog to learn more about pain, ways to mitigate pain and prosthetic topics overall as we publish more articles each week.
After an upper limb amputation, individual experiences vary a great deal. Most people report experiencing one or more of the following types of pain at some point during their recovery.
- General Body Pain — You may have areas other than your amputated limb that are uncomfortable. This can include possible back pain due to musculoskeletal imbalance, or overuse symptoms such as numbness or tingling in your unaffected hand or arm.
- Residual Limb Pain — This refers to symptoms in the remaining part of your amputated limb, and can include pain caused by a neuroma.
- Phantom Limb Pain — Pain that feels like it’s in the part of your arm or hand that was amputated is called phantom limb pain. It is often described as a “shooting” or “shocking” sensation that tends to occur more in the evening. Others describe their limb being in a clenched, uncomfortable position.
- Pain caused by a poor prosthetic socket fit — If you currently wear a prosthetic device and find that you experience pain while you wear your device, we recommend that you see an upper-limb prosthetic specialist. All our Arm Dynamics prosthetists and therapists are upper-limb prosthetic specialists and can evaluate why your current prosthetic device may be causing you pain.
It can be troubling to know that you may experience different types of pain. Fortunately, when you are equipped with information and empowered to take control of your symptoms, they can be managed.
Basic Approaches: Where to Start
Adequate sleep, a healthy diet and regular exercise are foundational to pain control and overall good health. At times, these and other healthy habits can be difficult to maintain — especially when pain is the very thing that interferes with them! Below are some quick tips to get you started.
- Sleep: Establish a consistent evening routine and avoid television, phone or tablet screens in the bedroom, or turn off screens an hour before bed (as recommended by The Cleveland Clinic). Avoid large meals and stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine before bedtime. Exercise and a good amount of natural light during the day can promote better sleep.
- Diet: Ensure a well-balanced diet, drink plenty of water and limit caffeinated and alcoholic beverages. Consult with your doctor or a registered dietitian. Supplements may be helpful, including melatonin, which helps regulate sleep, but always consult with your doctor, pharmacist and/or a registered dietitian, as these can cause medication interactions.
- Exercise: Regular, moderate exercise will increase endorphins and other “feel good” brain chemicals and help promote better sleep. Set realistic goals and consistently work toward them. Your therapist can help you reach those goals. You don’t need to run a marathon — just keep moving!
These approaches are a healthy start toward managing any pain you experience. While you may need medication in the weeks and months following an amputation, the above ideas can help after it's time to taper off of pain medication, which we talk about in detail in our article "Alternatives to Opioids."
If you would like more information about how our Arm Dynamics clinical team can help you manage your pain, please reach out to us. If you would like to share your story of how you have successfully managed your pain, or how you are working toward pain management, please do so in the comment section below.
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