Stability of phantom limb phenomena after upper limb amputation: A longitudinal study
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Amputees may experience stump pain (SP), phantom limb (PL) sensations, pain, and/or a general awareness of the missing limb. The mechanisms underlying these perceptions could involve nervous system neuroplasticity and be reflected in altered sensory function of the residual limb. Since little is known about the progression of post-amputation sensory phenomena over time, we longitudinally evaluated the stability of, and relationships among: 1) subjective reports of PL sensations, pain, awareness, and SP, 2) stump tactile and tactile spatial acuity thresholds, and 3) use of a functional vs. a cosmetic prosthesis in 11 otherwise healthy individuals with recent unilateral, traumatic upper-extremity amputation. Subjects were evaluated within 6 months and at 1–3 years after amputation. Processing of tactile sensory information from the stump remained stable over the study time period. PL awareness was frequent, stable over time, intense, and occurred with or without PL sensations. Functional prosthetic use correlated with stable vividness of PL awareness whereas subjects who used a cosmetic prosthesis had less vivid PL awareness at follow-up. Initial SP correlated with follow-up SP, the initial PL pain correlated with follow-up PL pain but neither initial nor follow-up SP appear to be related to follow-up PL pain after accounting for initial PL pain intensity. Neither limb temperature nor prosthesis-use correlated with the initial vs. follow-up change in PL pain intensity. These data provide evidence that PL pain described 1–3 years after an amputation is not related in any simple way to peripheral sensory function, SP, or limb temperature; and PL awareness but not PL pain may be influenced by the frequent use of a functional prosthesis.