Understanding Phantom Limb Pain Essay

Understanding Phantom Limb Pain Essay

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Imagine a man – refer to him as John* – who lost his left arm after a horrible tractor accident. Shortly after his amputation, John begins feeling strange sensations where his arm previously existed, namely excruciating pain, akin to something ripping his flesh apart. Despite the empty space, he feels his arm; the sensations seem so realistic that he almost believes his arm remains attached to his shoulder. Is John mad? Obviously his left arm no longer exists, so how could he feel pain in that empty space? To the outside world, John appears crazy - a man who cannot healthily cope with the loss of his arm. However, according to Phantom in the Brain by Dr. Ramachandran, John’s sensations stem not from madness, but from a phantom limb; he experiences the sensations of his arm as if it still belonged to his body. Society can better understand, and therefore accept, sufferers of phantom limbs, or similar phenomenon, due to neurological explanations for the conditions.
Ramachandran offers one explanation, which correlates phantom limbs to internal body image. He states, “…your body image, despite all its appearance of durability, is an entirely transitory internal construct that can be profoundly modified with just a few simple tricks. It is merely a shell that you’ve temporarily created for successfully passing on your genes to your offspring” (62). The body exists only as a shell, which can change over time. If the body changes, then the mind does not always adapt to that change, which leads to a phantom limb. John, and other sufferers, experience phantom limb due to internal body image; their mind views their body as it existed in its whole state, despite their missing limb(s). Likewise, Ramachandran treats phantom limb with a mi...


... middle of paper ...


...h the brain views the body, or the sensations, or lack thereof, in their phantom.
A man complaining about pain in an invisible arm, or a woman whose arm feels paralyzed despite its amputation, may appear crazy. If people do not understand their conditions, then it becomes easy to negatively judge them. However, Ramachandran sheds new light on these conditions, especially phantom limb, which occurs in amputees who still feel the presence of their missing limb. This phenomenon happens due to control the brain has over the body, both internally and externally. Neurological explanations include internal body image, brain mapping, and improper brain command feedback, all outlined by Ramachandran. Through these explanations, society can understand and accept those that struggle with phantom limb, or similar phenomenon, and let go of judgment towards these individuals.


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