Mirror Therapy for Phantom Limb Pain

by mo on Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Concentrating on the idea of "mirror neurons" as discussed in an earlier post, this case study further explores the therapy whereby patients use mirror contraption not dissimilar to Ramachandran's mirror box, to trick their mind into seeing the physical manifestation of their phantom limb (which is merely a reflection of the non-amputated limb) so that therapeutical exercises can be performed on the phantom limb from which the phantom pain stems.

"Our findings showed that mirror therapy reduced phantom limb pain in patients who had undergone amputation of lower limbs. Such pain was not reduced by either covered-mirror or mental-visualisation treatment. Pain relief associated with mirror therapy may be due to the activation of mirror neurons in the hemisphere of the brain that is contralateral to the amputated limbs. These neurons fire when a person either performs an action of observes another person performing an action. Alternatively, visual input of what appears to be movement of the amputated limb might reduce the activity of systems that perceive protopathic pain. Although the underlying mechanism accounting for the success of this therapy remains to be elucidated, these results suggest that mirror therapy may be helpful in alleviating phantom pain in an amputated lower limb" (Chan 2007, p.2207). 

Reference: Chan, B.L., Witt, R., Charrow, A.P., Magee, A., Howard, R., Pasquina, P.F., Heilman, K.M. & Tsao, J.W. 2007, "Mirror therapy for phantom limb pain", N Engl J Med, vol. 357, pp. 2206-2207.


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