Prevalence and incidence of phantom limb pain, phantom limb sensations and telescoping in amputees: A systematic rapid review

Anna Stankevicius, Sarah B. Wallwork, Simon J. Summers, Brenton Hordacre, Tasha R. Stanton

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    30 Citations (Scopus)


    Background and objective: This systematic, rapid review aimed to critically appraise and synthesize the recent literature (2014-2019) evaluating the incidence and prevalence of post-amputation phantom limb pain (PLP) and sensation (PLS).

    Databases and data treatment: Five databases (Medline, Embase, Emcare, PsychInfo, Web of Science) and Google Scholar were searched, with two independent reviewers completing eligibility screening, risk of bias assessment and data extraction.

    Results: The search identified 1,350 studies with 12 cross-sectional and 3 prospective studies included. Studies evaluated traumatic (n = 5), atraumatic (n = 4), and combined traumatic/atraumatic (n = 6) amputee populations, ranging from 1 month to 33 years post-amputation. Study heterogeneity prevented data pooling. The majority of studies had a high risk of bias, primarily due to limited generalizability. Three studies evaluated PLP incidence, ranging from 2.2% (atraumatic; 1 month) to 41% (combined; 3 months) and 82% (combined; 12 months). Only one study evaluated PLS/telescoping incidence. Across contrasting populations, PLP point prevalence was between 6.7%-88.1%, 1 to 3-month period prevalence was between 49%-93.5%, and lifetime prevalence was high at 76%-87%. Point prevalence of PLS was 32.4%-90%, period prevalence was 65% (1 month) and 56.9% (3 months), and lifetime prevalence was 87%. Telescoping was less prevalent, highest among traumatic amputees (24.6%) within a 1-month prevalence period. Variations in population type (e.g. amputation characteristics) and incidence and prevalence measures likely influence the large variability seen here.

    Conclusions: This review found that lifetime prevalence was the highest, with most individuals experiencing some type of phantom phenomena at some point post-amputation.

    Significance: This systematic rapid review provides a reference for clinicians to make informed prognosis estimates of phantom phenomena for patients undergoing amputation. Results show that most amputees will experience phantom limb pain (PLP) and phantom limb sensations (PLS): high PLP incidence 1-year post-amputation (82%); high lifetime prevalence for PLP (76%-87%) and PLS (87%). Approximately 25% of amputees will experience telescoping. Consideration of individual patient characteristics (cause, amputation site, pre-amputation pain) is pertinent given their likely contribution to incidence/prevalence of phantom phenomena
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)23-38
    Number of pages16
    JournalEuropean Journal of Pain
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


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