Phantom Limb

This passage is about a disorder called "phantom limb."

Lexile Level: 1220L

Categories: History People & Places Sports & Health Science & Technology


In the sixteenth century, a French doctor named Ambroise Pare documented a strange phenomenon that occurred among people who had experienced the amputation of a limb. These individuals described persistent sensations in an arm or a leg that was no longer there. In 1866, Dr. Wier Mitchell, a physician during the American Civil War, published an account of the disorder and coined the term "phantom limb." The occurrence of phantom limb in amputees is thought to be as high as 80 percent. It usually begins very shortly after amputation occurs and often continues for years. Patients describe phantom arms that swing as they walk, phantom fingers that still feel the cold metal of a ring, and phantom toes that itch. Sometimes the sensations can be incredibly painful. The pain, however, is difficult to treat since there is no actual limb. Scientists are still uncertain whether the pain is caused by severed nerve endings at the stump of a limb or whether the pain resides solely in the mind.


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