Veteran's Health Library Menu

Health Encyclopedia

Related Reading

Managing Pain After Amputation Surgery

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

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, how does it feel? (If 0 means no pain, and 10 is the worst 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.

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 pain. Your skin can be very sensitive after amputation. Pain from your skin can feel sharp or irritating.

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

  • Muscle pain. This can feel like aching and cramping.

  • Bone pain. This can happen immediately after surgery and usually gets better as the limb heals. Bone pain can also occur if the end of the bone presses against the socket of your prosthesis. This may cause deep or sharp pain.

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

Treating pain

Your doctor may need to try different medicines or dosages to find the most effective way of treating your pain. The most common pain medicines 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 medicines. They are commonly used to treat depression and seizure, but they have proven effective at relieving pain related to amputation. There are other means of treating your pain if medicines aren’t helping to control your pain. Here are some common examples:

  • Acupuncture

  • TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)

  • Biofeedback

  • Desensitization techniques, including massage

  • Shrinker or compression garments

  • Mirror Therapy

  • 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 something! Don’t act brave or worry about being a pest. Medicines and other treatments can be adjusted to meet your needs. Remember: the goal 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.

For more information

See the following Rehabilitation After Lower Limb Amputation workbook, developed by VA and DoD.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 4/1/2020
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
Disclaimer - Opens 'Disclaimer' in Dialog Window | Help | About Veterans Health Library