Reflexology and phantom limb pain.

Phantom limb is the term for abnormal sensations in a previously amputated limb. These may be painful or non painful. Phantom limb pain is often considered to be a form of nerve pain.

The "phantom" sensations are usually located in the end sections of the missing limb. Pain and tingling may be felt in the fingers and hand, and in the toes and the feet. People may feel a mixture of sensations from the amputated limb. The limb may feel completely intact despite its absence. Non painful sensations may include changes in temperature, itching, tingling, shock-like sensations, or perceived motion of the phantom limb. Painful sensations can include burning, throbbing, or stabbing in nature. Touching the remaining stump may elicit sensations from the phantom.

The pain after amputation usually occurs within days or weeks, although it may be delayed for months or years. Pain can last for years, and tends to be intermittent. Pain may last up to 10–14 hours a day and can vary in severity from mild to debilitating.  This condition can be very distressing for the sufferer and as the limb is no longer in place ways to soothe the pain may feel limited. A holistic approach to managing this condition is essential as it has both physical and emotional effects.

A pilot study involving ten patients was undertaken to discover if reflexology could be helpful in reducing the intensity of phantom limb pain.  The objectives were to explore the possibility of reflexology, both hand and foot,  being used as a non-invasive form of pain relief and of empowering patients to maintain any positive results with self-treatment.  The study took place on five phases: phase 1 gave a baseline of pain, whilst phase 3 was a resting phase. Phases 2, 4 and 5 provided the reflexology treatments. 

REFLEXOLOGY INTERVENTIONS: In phase 2, six weekly reflexology treatments were given:  full foot reflexology to the remaining foot and hand reflexology to the hand of the amputated side. In phase 4, six weekly hand reflexology teaching sessions were carried out; patients copied on their own hands what the therapist did.  In phase 5, the patients treated themselves at home for 6 weeks at home, using the reference material.

The results werer encouraging. Over the 30-weeks there was an improvement in the amount and the intensity of the phantom limb pain, with a corresponding improvement in the duration of the pain and the affect on the person's lifestyle. The improvement was maintained when the clients self-treated.

The study indicated that reflexology, teaching and self-treatment were effective in reducing the intensity and duration of phantom limb pain. The follow-up questionnaire revealed that there was a continued improvement in the intensity of phantom limb pain and that the majority still self-treated.

This is only a small study and more research would be necessary before recommending reflexology as a first choice of treatment for phantom limb pain, but the results are encouraging enough to include reflexology on a holistic treatment plan alongside other therapies.

Phantom limb pain is a distressing and disabling condition. If you are concerned please do contact your health care provider for assessment and assistance. Holistic treatments can work well alongside western medicine.


Posted on November 25, 2013 and filed under reflexology, pain.