On losing a limb most patients may experience the feeling of phantom limb, wherein the person undergoes an illusion that an amputated arm or leg is still present. Even damage to the nervous system like a stroke may cause similar illusions in weakened limbs. Investigators believe that more than half of patients recovering from stroke experience phantom limb sensations.
In order to understand common phantom limbs and ascertain characteristics of such experiences experts interviewed 50 post-stroke patients. It was observed that 27 of the interviewees underwent phantom limb sensations most of which were on a daily basis. Such individuals claimed to move, adjust their position in bed and realize that their arm was underneath them, instead of beside them. On the other hand, others reported a wiggling sensation of their toes or fingers even in its absence.
Dr Daniel Antoniello from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, explained, “The study sheds light on how the phenomenal experience of one’s body can be altered after neurological damage. Remarkably, some of these individuals are able to control their phantom limbs with near total volition. This report has identified a group of patients that provide a valuable opportunity to explore how the brain constructs the conscious perception of the body.”
Some patients were apparently capable of controlling their phantom limb, like extending the arm to scratch an itch, which would of course not be of any help. Patients are unwilling to register such experiences possibly because of the fear to be tagged as ‘crazy.’ So such patients may end up revealing their symptoms but these sensations are kept under covers.
The study will be published in the October 2010 issue of Elsevier’s Cortex.