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June 1956

Observations on Phantom-Limb Phenomena

AMA Arch NeurPsych. 1956;75(6):624-636. doi:10.1001/archneurpsyc.1956.02330240062006

Loss of limb, in man, is often followed by an illusion—the conviction that the limb, or parts of it, continues to be present. Wier Mitchell30 coined the term "phantom limb" to designate this phenomenon, but descriptions can be found for centuries before him.* The more recent literature has assumed forbidding proportions,† yet the phenomenon itself remains puzzling. Perhaps all attempts at explanation are premature until we know more about the phenomenon itself, for the great mass of studies tells us little about such simple questions as the incidence of phantom limbs after amputation, the relative frequency of different phantom sensations, or the changes in the illusion with time.

To answer these questions, one needs systematic surveys of groups of cases; most of the available accounts are based, instead, on particularly striking aspects found in selected instances. Thus, for obvious reasons, painful phantoms (first described by Paré in 1552) have