What is Phantom Pain?

Dr. Pamela Squire, MD, CCFP, DCAPM, ISAM, CPE, discusses What is Phantom Pain?

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Dr. Pamela Squire, MD, CCFP, DCAPM, ISAM, CPE, discusses What is Phantom Pain?
Video transcript

Featuring Dr. Pamela Squire, MD, CCFP, DCAPM, ISAM, CPE
What is Phantom Pain?
Duration: 1 minute, 50 seconds    

In phantom pain, what seems to happen is that the spinal cord takes the message and remembers it and can send a signal independently up to the brain.  

The brain is a very complex organism. Think of it as the central processing unit. It will take a message and interpret it. One of the problems with chronic pain is there's a disconnect between what we see on an x-ray or other investigations and how much pain somebody's having.  

We were taught to believe that if you had severe changes on x-ray, you would have severe pain. And although that's sometimes the case, often it's not. Again, it's because of the software problem.

The changes that you see that are created by the software were initially developed, we think, to be protective. For instance, an example of a software change would be after you have a sunburn, it lowers the threshold for pain.

By that I mean if you were standing in the shower, the degree at which the warm water would feel painful would change and suddenly warm water would feel painful to you. That's protective. That stops you from injuring the tissues more. What sometimes happens, though, is that those changes persist even though the tissues heal.  

A lot of chronic pain involves a degree of neuroplasticity. What we mean by that is the nervous system, or the software, in your pain sensing system changes over time and we need to give you strategies to help you manage that.

The best place to find more information about how to manage chronic pain are with provincial, state, or national pain associations.

Presenter: Dr. Pamela Squire, Family Doctor, Vancouver, BC

Local Practitioners: Family Doctor

This content is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.