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Phantom Limbs
  1. Ronald Melzack, PH.D.*
  1. From the Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
  2. *Co-recipient, with Patrick D. Wall, of the Gaston Labat Award.


A phantom limb is universally experienced after a limb has been amputated or its sensory roots have been destroyed. A complete break of the spinal cord also often leads to a phantom body below the level of the break. Furthermore, phantom breasts, genitals and other body areas occur in a substantial number of people after surgical removal or denervation of the body part. The most astonishing feature of a phantom limb (or other body area) is its incredible “reality” to the person. An examination of phantom limb phenomena has led to a new theory. It is proposed that we are born with a widespread neural network—the neuromatrix—for the body-self, which is subsequently modified by experience. The neuromatrix imparts a pattern—the neurosignature—on all inputs from the body, so that experiences of one's own body have a quality of self and are imbued with affective tone and cognitive meaning. The theory is presented with supporting evidence as well as implications for research.

  • phantom limbs
  • pain
  • brachial plexus avulsion
  • paraplegia
  • neuromatrix

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