My Phantom Leg

A strange, kind of cool thing has been happening since my surgery.  I’ve been having an “out of leg” experience.

“Huh?” you may ask. Well, what I mean is that often, when I close my eyes or can’t see my injured leg (like when I’m typing on my laptop), I get the distinct sensation that the leg is not where it should be—that it’s in the wrong position. Not by much, mind you. But enough to make me look.

And when I do look, I am invariably surprised to see that it’s still up on the pillows, where I’ve been keeping it elevated, and not down level with my other leg, where I had just been sure it was. But what’s really weird is that I feel it momentarily in both postions and, for a split-second, I have three legs.

So, why? Why should this be happening? My best guess is the post-op swelling (and maybe some lingering effects of the nerve block) is interfering with the proprioceptor nerves in my knee, greatly reducing the number of signals they send to my brain.

The job of these specialized nerves is to send information about where the various parts of the body are in relation to each other. And when the brain stops receiving signals from them, strange things can happen, such as feeling a phantom limb in place of one that was lost.

But of course my leg is still there, and I can still feel it when I touch it or wriggle my toes. Which is why this only happens when I’m not paying attention to it, when I’m just letting it sit there and not looking at it. I think my brain just kind of loses track of it and slips into a default mode, placing my leg in a kind of at-rest position.

Cover of The Body Has a Mind of Its OwnNow, this all theory, I know. Some of it comes from talking with my physical therapists and with a researcher at the local university who’s looking at how better to revive the muscles surrounding injured and swollen joints. And some comes from a book called The Body Has a Mind of Its Own by Sandra and Michael Blakeslee about proprioception and ‘body maps’. But whatever the cause, I’m hoping it goes away soon. As helpful as a third leg might be in karate, I’ve already had more than my share of trouble with the two I had before.

And so, back to exorcising this phantom through R.I.C.E.


P.S. If you’re studying a martial art (or really engaged in any kind of sport), I especially recommend The Body Has a Mind of Its Own, which includes some intriguing research on things like how, when you pick a tool like a sword, the brain actually appears to start mapping it as if it is an extension of your hands, a part of your body. It took me a good while to find a copy in my area, but here are a couple of podcasts about the book and a link to a short article by book’s authors.

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One Response

  1. […] it hasn’t been as bad as I might have thought.  The phantom leg stuff seems to have stopped.  The knee seems good and strong.  It’s still tight, but  it […]

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