phantom pain

Hard to imagine, but true: Phantom pain is virtual pain in parts of the body that no longer exist. Patients feel projected pain in amputee limbs, ie pain "outside the body".

Mummy finds have proven that the technique of amputating was already known 3000 years ago in ancient Egypt. Nowadays, the surgical removal of a part of the body is sometimes the only way to save a human life. Patients complain after surgery about pain attacks, which are the same or only months and years later noticeable. The development of the phantom pain is not yet fully understood.

Where is the pain?

Put simply, the brain is overwhelmed by the surgical omission of large nerve areas. The stimulus-processing areas in the brain have to reorganize due to the lack of nerve information. For the brain to rethink, the existing "body schema in the head" must be rebuilt or outwitted. Considerable success has been achieved with electro-prostheses, electrodes and medications.

The pain memory

The more pain the patient had in the amputated body part, the more phantom pain he is usually attacked after surgery. The nerve cells in the brain memorize pain, which has affected the person for a long time. Due to this memory capability, the so-called phantom pain arises, which are no longer dependent on causative stimuli.


Phantom pain can last for years. The Mainz philosophy professor Thomas Metzinger explains the consciousness as a self-model of the body, a simulation that we confused with the body. Anyone who has ever traveled by train knows which trick our perception can play: Location of the event: Any train station. They are sitting in the compartment, looking out the window and waiting for the train to leave. Finally he leaves. Error! The neighboring train on the opposite track was ...

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