If you’re an amputee, you may already be familiar with residual limb pain and its symptoms. Residual limb pain (often referred to as simply RLP) is an uncomfortable or even painful sensation that is felt in the remaining, or residual, portion of a limb. It is also called phantom limb pain due to the nature of the condition, as nerve endings at the site of amputation will continue to send signals to the brain despite the fact that the limb itself is no longer there. It is a relatively common condition, especially for new amputees, and it’s often at its most severe immediately following an amputation. In extreme cases, RLP can result in a chronic struggle with pain, so you will want to work closely with your physician to help treat its symptoms and develop a long-term treatment plan as soon as you recognize its symptoms.
What causes RLP? Its cause can vary, depending on who you are and any underlying illnesses, diseases, or injuries you may have. Conditions that existed prior to your amputation are a key cause, especially if you’re a diabetic or have circulatory issues. Nerve pain, also known as neuropathy, is often responsible for the overactive sensations experienced by RLP patients. Sometimes, surgical trauma can be responsible for RLP due to a decreased blood supply to your limb or problems during the healing process. Other than pain, other reported sensations include tingling, fluctuations in a feeling of hot or cold, or burning at the site of amputation.
When it comes to your prosthetic, RLP can sometimes slow down the recovery process. If you are experiencing RLP, please notify your physician or prosthetist immediately to begin a treatment plan. Your prosthetic can be fitted with additional padding or further modified to help make wearing your prosthetic pain-free. Some causes of RLP, such as a neuroma (a sensitive bundle of nerve endings) or poor tissue coverage can make your pain more severe. More aggressive treatments may be prescribed in such instances, but most patients find that anti-inflammatory medications, steroids, or non-medication options (such as massage and acupuncture) can help alleviate symptoms. Surgery is usually not an option to treat RLP in most cases, as symptoms tend to reappear.
No matter the cause of your RLP, here are some suggestions for pain management:
- Begin physical therapy as soon as you can. Even simple stretching exercises can help interrupt the pain signals sent to the brain by overactive nerves.
- Take precautions to “desensitize” your limb, such as ensuring that it is well-covered, padded, or wrapped.
- Communicate with your physician or prosthetist to ensure that your prosthetic is comfortable, reporting any issues you may have as soon as you can.
- Try not to stress. In many cases, RLP will diminish or go away completely in time. Stress results in overactive nerves throughout the entire body and will only increase the severity of your RLP.
If you suspect that you are experiencing RLP, please reach out to us here at New Hope Prosthetics & Orthotics! Our patients are at the heart of everything we do, and we will do everything we can to ensure the best outcome for our patients. If you have more questions or are interested in scheduling an appointment with us regarding orthotics or prosthetics, please click HERE to contact us today!