How Phantom Limbs Can Trick Your Body in the Weirdest Ways


When Royal Navy officer and British national hero Lord Nelson lost his arm in battle in 1797, he considered his “phantom limb pain” to be “direct proof of the existence of the soul.” Regardless of your spiritual leanings, you have to admit that being able to “feel” an arm or leg that isn’t there is a pretty extraordinary thing. Phantom limb syndrome following the loss of a limb involves way more than just “sensing” phantom pain: there are plenty of fascinating accounts in the medical literature that reveal the phantom limb phenomenon as further evidence of the extraordinary power of the human mind (or soul, if you’re into that).

While you recover after losing a limb, you might experience a number of “phantom” sensations, depending on how the limb was lost. Your phantom limb may wave involuntarily, or even “retain” the “memory” of a wedding ring or wristwatch. There’s even a chance you could lose both arms and still experience arthritis in your “phantom hands” in the winter. You could even lose the phantom after decades, only to regain it by rubbing on your stump, “releasing” it like a genie from a bottle. Read on for a detailed look into what the phantom limb phenomenon is all about.