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Papers of the Week

Papers: 21 Oct 2023 - 27 Oct 2023

2023 Dec

Pain Rep




“I did not expect the doctor to treat a ghost”: a systematic review of published reports regarding chronic postamputation pain in British First World War veterans.


Dixon Smith S, Aldington D, Hay G, Kumar A, Le Feuvre P, Moore A, Soliman N, Wever KE, Rice ASC


Limb trauma remains the most prevalent survivable major combat injury. In the First World War, more than 700,000 British soldiers received limb wounds and more than 41,000 underwent an amputation, creating one of the largest amputee cohorts in history. Postamputation pain affects up to 85% of military amputees, suggesting that up to 33,000 British First World War veterans potentially reported postamputation pain. This qualitative systematic review explores the professional medical conversation around clinical management of chronic postamputation pain in this patient cohort, its development over the 20th century, and how this information was disseminated among medical professionals. We searched and archives (1914-1985) for reports referring to postamputation pain, its prevalence, mechanisms, descriptors, or clinical management. Participants were First World War veterans with a limb amputation, excluding civilians and veterans of all other conflicts. The search identified 9809 potentially relevant texts, of which 101 met the inclusion criteria. Reports emerged as early as 1914 and the discussion continued over the next 4 decades. Unexpected findings included early advocacy of multidisciplinary pain management, concerns over addiction, and the effect of chronic pain on mental health emerging decades earlier than previously thought. Chronic postamputation pain is still a significant issue for military rehabilitation. Similarities between injury patterns in the First World War and recent Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts mean that these historical aspects remain relevant to today’s military personnel, clinicians, researchers, and policymakers.