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Ghost Pain

I have a few long-healed incisions in my stomach from laparoscopies past. Sometimes, they sting. I look at them and they’re not open or irritated, just dull, old scars. But sometimes I feel a quick stab or sting there anyway.

SPOOKY.

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So what’s up, is this a real thing? Is it really just some coincidentally-perceived endo pain? Is it the memory of pain? Or is it some kind of real pain?

I’ve heard of “phantom pain.” You usually see it in war movies. If someone looses an arm or a leg, and they don’t know it yet, they’ll wake up going “agh my leg! It hurts so much! Wha….WHERE IS MY LEG? HOW CAN IT HURT?!” and it’s very dramatic.

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Well it’s also a real thing. In fact 80% of amputees, according to Wikipedia, will experience some kind of phantom sensations in missing limbs. It can also occur in people who have a breast or internal organ removed. Since very old-timey olden times, phantom pain has been accepted as a real thing by medical professionals.

But pain in a body part that is no longer there doesn’t account for pain in a long-healed injury. Nothing was removed. So what I have deemed “ghost pain” couldn’t be the same thing as “phantom pain.”

Can you believe how many supernatural beings have made it in to this medical discussion?

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Well, it’s about to get even more unreliable sounding. Pain in old scars is not something I’ve been able to find much info on online. According to a cosmetic surgery site, old scars may sometimes hurt with changes in the weather. But that’s the only place I saw a reference to such a phenomena. And while I know cosmetic surgery is real science, I’m inclined to distrust their website at least a little. After all, they’re also a business, and want you to want your scars removed….or whatever you’d call cosmetic scar surgery.

Everything else is questions on message boards (and you know how I feel about that) and *cringe* yahoo answers. There are interesting thoughts there, but coming from anonymous sources with no reputation, I don’t feel right repeating any of their info here.

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I did find this interesting scholarly article about a woman who had a c-section and experienced pain in the scar three years later. If you’re in the mood for reading, it’s an interesting case, but sadly I don’t think it holds answers to our ghost pain questions. What she experienced was “scar endometriosis,” which we sort of touched on in my article about C-sections causing endometriosis.

While I suppose there is a chance that I could have scar endometriosis in these small scars, I doubt it. Mainly because, in my case, the pain is sudden and fleeting, and fairly mild. My normal endometriosis pain usually lasts longer than a quick moment. That’s why I’ve always referred to these little painful anomalies as “ghost pain.” They’re so quick that they don’t quite seem real. Plus of course, there’s no apparent cause.

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I did find a good description of how scar tissue differs from normal tissue on another blog, which specifically focuses on “connective tissue.” I’m going to be honest – I do not have a strong grasp of what connective tissue is, and where it is, and if it is at all involved in surgical scarring. But I think that it is. And even if it isn’t, wouldn’t scarring of any tissue have similarities, such as the increased conductivity of pain? That’s what it sounds like to me, anyway.

Allodynia is the pain condition which intrigued me most in my reading. This is the condition wherein stimuli that do not normally cause pain now do cause pain. I suppose that could refer to changes in the weather, but I’m thinking it sounds more like simply moving or stretching in a certain way could cause an old scar to hurt briefly in a ghost pain kind of way.

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Really, this isn’t that big of a deal at the end of the day. Like I said, the pain I do feel is short and not intense. But my scars are tiny. What about larger incisions? What about the new scar my Dad is sporting from open heart surgery? In a few years, will ghost pains shoot through it, too? That scar is huge, and stretched over his chest, which is always moving while he breathes, talks, sneezes, and coughs. It would be worth knowing, for someone with a large scar (or someone who loves someone with a large scar), what ghost pain is and what to do about it. Or to know what causes it, and how to avoid it, or at least when to expect it.

For now, for me, whatever ghost is living in my scars is simply an object of interest. How often do you have ghost anything, anyway?

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What do you think, reader-land people? Have you ever heard of such a thing? If you’ve had surgery, does this ever happen to you? Do your smaller scars hurt less than your larger ones? Have you asked your doctor or surgeon about it? Is there a physical cause for it, or does it occur because of damaged or confused nervous system action? I’d love to hear what you think.

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About rachelmeeks

My name is Rachel Meeks. I have endometriosis, an incurable pain condition, IBS, a digestive illness, and PCOS, which causes irregular periods and infertility. After keeping my illnesses a secret, I started to get upset about how my fellow sick people were being mistreated because of ignorance. I knew that I'd need to stand up, make some noise, wear my heart on my sleeve, and admit that I am not well to make a difference.

4 responses to “Ghost Pain

  1. mo

    Interesting post! I have had seven surgeries, six of which were bikini line incisions and I have those random “tweaks” every once in a while too! Kind of like little pinches aren’t they?

    Hope you are feeling good and taking good care of yourself!!

    xomo

  2. If you gained a little weight, the scar tissue can’t stretch and will sometimes cause a little stinging. It could even be dry skin. The phantom pain that comes with an amputation is considered to be like memory pain. Pain is the last thing the nerves remember and, for whatever reason, stays around. In all my years of nursing, I never did learn a satisfactory answer for phantom pain.
    It was always recommended to use a moisturizing lotion to keep a scar soft, but that still did not address the problem of inflexibility. If a scar is particularly bad, it can be removed and then you have to hope and pray the new will not be as gross.
    Vitamins and minerals that are good for the skin: vitamins A, C, E, and magnesium. I don’t know how much they’ll help with scar tissue. I looked for a copy of the teaching page I gave out to my patients, but apparently I didn’t save one.

    • Phantom pain is so intriguing. I hope we learn more about it soon!

      I’ve heard rave reviews for using topical vitamins for skin, particularly e. I never connected the idea with helping scars stretch more. Now that I’m VERY pregnant my abdominal scars sting more and more often. I’ve been using body butter and coconut oil, but I might go try vitamin E next. I’d be interested to see what that does. šŸ™‚

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