UCT researcher clarifies phantom limb pain misconceptions

Katleho Limakatso has a fascinating story about his study into phantom limb pain, started in 2012. This happened at Victoria Hospital during his undergraduate years. He had a loud cry from a man went to attend to him.

John Maytham speaks to Limakatso, who is now a PhD candidate in the chronic pain management unit, based in the department of anaesthesia and perioperative medicine in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

He was really in pain and mentioned that the pain was in his left foot but when I observed his left foot, it was not there. To me, this was really shocking to say: 'How can you feel pain in an absent limb?' So, that's how it started.

Katleho Limakatso, PHD candidate - University of Cape Town

In previous theories, it was mentioned that phantom limb pain is a psychological disorder. So previously people were thought to be mentally ill or putting it on to a point whereby they will be sent for mental institutionalisation.

Katleho Limakatso, PHD candidate - University of Cape Town

However, with recent developments in research, it has been found that phantom limb pain is driven by changes in the brain.

Katleho Limakatso, PHD candidate - University of Cape Town

On the importance of the research in terms of minimising phantom itches, Limakatso has this to say:

This area of research is still well in its infancy but with the results that we have, they are really promising and from here we are looking to conduct much bigger trials in order to verify and become more confident in the results that we have. But at the moment I think the most important message that we want to drive to the public is that phantom limb pain is not a mental [disorder]. You are not going mad.

Katleho Limakatso, PHD candidate - University of Cape Town

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