Phantom limb phenomenon as an example of body image distortion

Magdalena Razmus 1 , Beata Daniluk 1 , and Piotr Markiewicz 2 , 3
  • 1 Institute of Psychology, Maria Curie - Sklodowska University, Lublin, Poland
  • 2 The Faculty of Humanities, University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, Poland
  • 3 The Regional Specialist Hospital in Olsztyn, , Poland


Introduction: The perception of one’s own body, its mental representation, and emotional attitude to it are the components of so-called “body image” []. The aim of the research was to analyse phantom pain and non-painful phantom sensations as results of limb loss and to explain them in terms of body image distortion.

Material and method: Three methods were used in the study of 22 amputees (7 women and 15 men, between 43 and 76 years old, M = 61, SD = 11.3): (1) a clinical interview; (2) The Questionnaire of Body Experiencing after Limb Amputation; (3) modified version of The Pain Questionnaire based on The McGill Pain Questionnaire.

Results: The prevalence of phantom limb pain was 59%. Some various non-painful phantom sensations after amputation were experienced by 77% of respondents. There was a statistically significant relationship between phantom pain and non-painful phantom sensations in a group of participants experiencing phantom limb phenomenon at the moment of the research.

Conclusions: Deformation of body image in the form of phantom pain and non-painful phantom sensations is a frequent experience after limb loss. We suggest that phantom limb is a form of out-of-date or inadequate body image as an effect of the brain activity trying to keep a kind of status quo. A co-occurrence of non-painful phantom sensations and phantom pain suggests that these both forms of post-amputation sensations may share neural mechanisms. Results indicate, that there exists somatosensory memory which may be manifested in similarities between pre- and post-amputation sensations.

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