Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

Pain without a name

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

I met an elderly leg amputee. I asked him, “Do you have phantom pain?”

(I’m never shy about asking people about their pain — it’s particularly interesting to me, of course, but I’ve also learned over the years that people like being asked about their pain. Pain is almost everyone’s favourite subject! Which is why you’re not supposed to talk about it (see 3rd item), along with talking about how you slept, your dreams, money, your diet, and so on. But it’s my job to be interested, and it’s my job because I am.)

He laughed merrily as though this were an especially clever question, and said, “You know, I suffered from phantom pain for my whole life, but only found out that there was a name for it just a few years ago!” And he described intermittent nighttime episodes of horrible burning, stabbing pain that he’d had in his “foot” since he was a boy, before a prosthetist finally explained the phenomenon to him.

Decades of health care professionals had never talked to him about it, even though they must have known — phantom limb pain is extraordinarily well-documented, and one of the most fascinating areas in pain research.

This is an excerpt, a new-ish anecdote in my muscle pain book.