commonwealth pain and spine logo

Understanding How TENS Therapy Can Relieve Your Phantom Limb Pain

Oct 07, 2021
Understanding How TENS Therapy Can Relieve Your Phantom Limb Pain
Pain can be frustrating under the best of circumstances, but when your pain is related to an area of your body that’s no longer there, the problem becomes even more difficult. Explore how TENS may hold the key to relieving phantom limb pain.

Each year in the United States, 30,000 to 40,000 people undergo an amputation, and nearly 80% of these amputees report problems with phantom limb pain. If you find yourself struggling with pain sensations in an area that’s no longer there, we want you to know that there are solutions that can bring you much-needed relief, including transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy. 

As pain management specialists, we understand how frustrating and baffling phantom limb pain can be, and our goal is to find solutions that restore your quality of life. After much research, the team here at Commonwealth Pain and Spine has found that TENS therapy can be highly successful in relieving phantom limb pain, and we discuss this treatment here. 

Phantom limb pain basics

If you’ve undergone an amputation, the recovery period can come with considerable discomfort as a result of the invasive surgery. As your amputation site begins to heal, residual limb pain can develop as a result of nerve entrapment, neuromas, infection, skin breakdown, and/or infection.


These symptoms are typically temporary and often improve as the amputation site fully heals.

Unfortunately, nearly 80% of amputees are still left with pain after the site heals, which is what we refer to as phantom limb pain. This pain is a result of your nerves firing abnormal signals and is often described as:

  • Burning
  • Shooting
  • Twisting
  • Electric-like shocks
  • Prickly

While we don’t know the exact cause of the pain, we do know that much of it is attributable to the severed ends of your nerves, which can become hyperexcitable. There’s also some evidence that phantom limb pain may stem from changes in your central nervous system — your spinal cord and brain. As well, psychology can also play a role as you struggle to process the pain.

How TENS therapy works to stop the pain

The TENS system works in several ways to relieve phantom limb pain. First, the treatment is based on the simple goal of interrupting the pain signaling in your peripheral nerves with a low-voltage electrical current. These electrical impulses are designed to garble the messaging, preventing the signals from reaching your brain where it’s processed as pain.

While signal interruption is one way TENS therapy works, this type of nerve stimulation may also increase the levels of endorphins in your system, which are your natural painkillers.

Another way in which TENS can relieve phantom limb pain is that the electrical impulses increase blood flow and reduce muscle spasms at the amputation site.

One of the greatest advantages of TENS therapy is that the treatment is completely noninvasive, and there are no risky medications involved. All we do is attach electrodes to the surface of your skin in the amputation area, and the small device delivers the electrical current.

The other advantage is its effectiveness in relieving phantom limb pain. For example, one study found that TENS therapy reduced the pain intensity scores among participants by as much as 3.9 (based on a pain scale from 1-10).

If you want to learn more about how TENS therapy can help relieve your phantom limb pain, we invite you to make an appointment with one of our pain management experts at a location near you. These locations include St. Matthews, Elizabethtown, Lexington, Crestview Hills, Owensboro, and London, Kentucky. Indiana offices are in Evansville, Vincennes, New Albany, Carrollton, and Jasper. We also serve patients from Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio.