Is phantom pain evidence of the body-mind connection?
'You'll never understand the reason, until you look deep enough into the cut to see the emotional pain that put it there.' ~ Author Unknown
Phantom pain is a phenomenon that has never been clearly understood by medical science. While we can define it easily as pain in a body part that is no longer there, its cause cannot be adequately explained, despite many studies that attempt to do so. There is no clear reason from a purely physiological perspective as to why phantom pain should exist.
The term "phantom" itself means a distortion of the senses, an illusion. Indeed that is what phantom pain is ~ the brain receiving a message of pain in a body part that doesn’t even exist. One could understand that perceived pain in a limb that has been amputated could be easily explained as psychogenic pain or pain as a result of emotional factors. But I believe I have clearly laid a foundation in my article on chronic pain that disputes the judgmental factors involved in the term 'psychological pain,' 'emotional pain', or 'psychogenic pain.' All pain, is real pain, and interrelated, so that to distinguish between what is of physiologic versus psychogenic in origin is a mute point.
Equally mysterious is how quadriplegics, who still have their limbs, but are no longer able to move them or feel them, also experience phantom pain. This perhaps could be explained as simply a physiologic problem where the physical nerves have been cut off from the brain. If this is the explanation, then one would believe that the 'sensing' nerves, as well as the 'motor' nerves have been cut off. But if a paralyzed person cannot feel her legs, how is it possible that she can still feel the phantom pain in the missing limb?? Medical science does not have an answer.
The most mysterious of all, in my opinion then, is how can it be that children born without limbs experience phantom pain in the missing limb? They have no prior knowledge of the limb nor have they experienced any sensation in this limb, ever. So where does this pain originate? Medical science certainly doesn’t have an answer.
Phantom pain is considered a subset of something called 'referred pain.' Referred pain is simply a pain that is felt in a different area than the area that caused the pain. An easy example is the pain of a heart attack. This pain is often not felt in the chest, but in the stomach, or the left arm. Again, medical science cannot fully explain the phenomenon of referred pain.
Referred pain is associated with trigger points, and myofascia (see foam rolling) and acupressure points. From all of these concepts have sprung many specialties to attempt to treat and cure referred pain and chronic pain, some with lots of success.
Medical science has no explanation for referred pain, despite the many theories. Understanding referred pain does not help us understand phantom pain.
Chollo Walking Stick Cactus Bloom, Northern New Mexico
An itch is closely related to pain. Cause for itching is not yet entirely explained. However, an itch differs dramatically from pain, in that the human reflex, when experiencing a painful stimulus, is to withdraw. With the sensation of an itch, the human reflex is to scratch. So, with itching, at least, a quick scratch takes care of the problem, right? Not always.
It seems to me that most of us can recall an itch that started small, and kept going and spread all over our body, until our skin crawled! That is a common metaphor we use for something so noxious, that it made our skin crawl. So, in my mind itching is very similar to the sensation of pain. In my experience this phenomenon usually occurs at night, when consciousness is at a different level. Hmmmm...
I can also make a point, by telling you that the next time you have an itch, just try to refrain from scratching it! It is nearly impossible. Seems to me that this makes a point for the psychogenic origin of itching. Or does it?
Just like pain, (as I describe in my article on chronic pain) we have lots of metaphors in our English language surrounding the noxious sensation of the lowly itch: 'Itching for something,' 'What are you itching for,' to name a few.
So I am going to step out on a limb, again, and give you my opinion on all of these unexplainable physiologic phenomena. I believe that these sensations are indicative of the quantum aspect of who we really are. Matter is merely collapsed energy.
I may be proven wrong, but until medical science has a plausible explanation for these phenomena, I believe they are beyond our limited human perceptions, and therefore unexplainable from the perspective of the physical world. I believe in the inter-connectedness of all things and all matter at a level of quantum physics that just cannot be explained through our five senses. Our beings are much, much more than the mere physical presence of our bodies. Phantom pain in my mind is evidence of this.
It is the ability that we all have of empowering that which is non-physical, is non-perceptible and is 'nothing' and create it into something' that is physical and is perceptible. It is the evidence that our physical selves are deeply interconnected with our souls, and our emotions, and perhaps with every other living and non-living thing in the Universe. It is evidence of the interplanetary connectedness that suggests that we are all one and of the same essence.
So, having this knowledge empowers us to make a positive change if we suffer from phantom pain, referred pain, psychogenic pain and noxious itching!
I had a patient many years back, whom had a leg removed below the knee. She was not an old woman, but in her middle age, who used to be a dancer. She was quite attractive and slender, the image of a dancer. She suffered from horrible pain in her missing limb. No amount of pain medications, short of knocking her out, was effective. I can’t recall the condition that resulted in the removal of her leg, but she arrived at the rehab hospital where I took care of her following her surgery.
Can you just imagine the incredible emotional suffering that a dancer might experience at the loss of her leg? There is no doubt in my mind that her phantom pain was due to pain in her body-mind-soul.
I wish I had known then what I know now. I would have assisted her in acknowledging her pain, and helped her move into that pain, instead of masking it with narcotics. If she had the courage to fully experience her pain, she would have been able to heal. It is only by fully acknowledging and experiencing her pain, that perhaps she could have released it.
It is only by experiencing our pain and our emotions, instead of denying them that we can release them. It is in the acknowledgment of pain that healing can begin. It is in not judging the pain as good or bad, but as information as to our inner condition and our inner desires. This is how the body is a window to our souls, or our true selves.
Whether or not we chose to acknowledge it, emotions affect our body. Strong emotions that are denied and suppressed create psychogenic pain, soul pain, and horrible physical pain. Acknowledged emotional and soul pain that is accepted as is, in the moment can be released and healed.
I believe that phantom pain is a reflection of deep grieving for the loss of a body part or the function of a body part that either once existed or never existed. Phantom pain is very, very real and a manifestation in the body of deeply suppressed emotions and grief. The pain is so deep it is at a quantum level, of the total body-mind-soul, the energetic core of your being.
When you recognize that phantom pain is an experience of energy collapsing into physical manifestation, and deeply experience your loss and grief, then you can heal.
May you have the courage to fully experience your phantom pain, thank your body-mind-soul for its messages and release the pain, so that you can find healing of your body-mind-soul!