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Phantom Pain

Have you ever used the example of phantom limb pain to explain the idea of a ‘map in your brain’ and ‘brain smudging’? I do so each and every pain program that I run with chronic pain patients in my clinical work. I find that patients latch onto this idea and use it as a motivator to achieve exercise goals – after a few weeks of graded exposure I have overheard people say things like, “my brain map is changing! I can do it!” and “I think my smudges are clearing up”. It’s a nice story to use. Now it doesn’t just have to be a verbally-told story…

Last December I sent a draft script off to the TED-Ed team for a 5-minute animation. After input from 6 editors, a producer, a fact-checker, a director, a voice narrator, and a team of animators in Turkey, I’m happy to share the finished product:


I think you will agree that this 3D animation is really helpful in conveying the key message of a ‘map in your brain’. Don’t you just love seeing the homunculus playing the violin?! Already, I’ve been hearing how clinicians are using this as a supporting resource when delivering pain science education.

The rate of information dissemination via YouTube is quite staggering. With more than 200,000 views in the first week, this video has quickly spread to all corners of our spherical planet.

–Josh Pate

Joshua’s PhD is an investigation into a child’s concept of pain: how a child thinks about the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of pain. He is now considering planning future resources for this specific audience of patients, families, and clinicians. Follow Josh on Twitter @JoshuaWPate or if you would like to get in touch with him about the video or his research, you can email him at 


  1. Anne Marie

    Hello just a pernickerty point about the term phantom limb pain- and language is important!
    I believe that pain in phantom limb is better as the pain is real not a phantom
    Anne Marie

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