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Managing Pain After Amputation Surgery

No matter what kind of surgery you have, pain is always a concern. As with any surgery, pain after amputation can be controlled. This can help you stay more comfortable. People react to pain in different ways. So learn how to describe your pain to your healthcare team. This means explaining where the pain is, how it feels, and how bad it is. This lets the healthcare team know how best to treat your pain.

Male leg amputee sitting on exam table talking to doctor about his knee and prosthesis.

Types of residual limb pain

Pain in your residual limb can be coming from different places. The following are the most common sources of limb pain after amputation:

  • Skin can be very sensitive after amputation. Pain from your skin can feel sharp or irritating.

  • Nerve pain can range from tingling to feeling like an electric shock. The source of nerve pain may be a neuroma. A neuroma results when the ends of cut nerves grow into a painful ball under the skin.

  • Muscle pain can feel like aching and cramping.

  • Bone pain can occur if the end of the bone presses against the socket of your prosthesis. This may cause deep or sharp pain.

  • Phantom pain is a pain felt in the missing limb after amputation and is a real pain thought to originate in the brain.

Explaining your pain

Only you know how your pain feels. After surgery, your goal is to get better. Pain relief plays a big part in your recovery. Be honest when a doctor or nurse asks about your pain. On a scale of 0 to 10 (if 0 means no pain, and 10 is the worst pain), how severe is the pain? Also mention the type of pain. Is it aching, burning, sharp, twisting, dull, or does it feel like an electric shock? Be sure to say how often the pain is happening.

Treating pain

Your doctor may need to try different medications or dosages. This can help find the most effective way to treat your pain. The most common pain medications used after surgery are opioids (narcotics). Opioids block pain signals on their way to the brain. This means they can control even severe pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may also be used. Like opioids, NSAIDs block pain signals on their way to the brain. Your doctor may also try antidepressants or anticonvulsant medications. They are commonly used to treat depression and seizure. But they have proven effective at relieving pain related to amputation. Always ask your doctor about possible side effects of the medicines you may be prescribed which may include drowsiness, constipation, and dependency. There are other things your doctor may recommend if medications do not help control your pain. Here are some common examples:

  • Acupuncture

  • TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)

  • Biofeedback

  • Massage therapy

  • Hypnosis

  • Meditation

The pain is telling you something!

Pain is your body’s way of pointing out a problem. So don’t try to “tough it out.” If your pain is not lessening after treatment, say so. Don’t act brave or worry about being a pest. Medications and other treatments can be adjusted to meet your needs. Remember that the goal of amputation is to help restore function. Pain can be a barrier to your recovery. Finding what works for you is what really matters. Work with your amputation team to resolve pain issues as they occur during your recovery.

© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.