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  • Writer's pictureEngage PT, OT, SLP Therapy and Wellness

Did you know mirrors can be used to help with pain?

Mirror therapy is an evidence based brain training approach that can help decrease pain or help parts of the body relearn movement. Mirror therapy was first shown to help amputees with phantom limb pain - an experience where people feel pain in a body part that is no longer there. Mirror therapy has also been found to be beneficial for patients with chronic pain, complex regional pain syndrome, and stroke. Mirror therapy‘s positive effects are related to how it helps rewire and create new neural connections in the brain.

During a mirror therapy session, a mirror box is used and the extremities are positioned on either side of the mirror. The affected limb will be hidden by the box and the unaffected side will be on the outside so that its reflection will be seen in the mirror. The patient will look into the mirror while moving the unaffected limb, which will create a mirror image to make it look like the affected side is moving. This helps activate pathways in the brain associated with moving the affected side, and creates a positive movement experience in the brain.

Use of a mirror box activates “mirror neurons”, which help the brain tell the difference between the left and the right side. Activation of mirror neurons helps in the recovery of the affected side because observing movement stimulates the motor pathways which would be involved in that movement. This is the thought process behind why mirror therapy helps people after stroke - the visualization of the affected side moving stimulates your brain more, so that it starts to encourage movement of the affected side, aiding in recovery.

Mirror therapy also helps rewire the brain for patients with chronic pain. Chronic pain results in the parts of the brain connected to the affected part of the body becoming less active. This results in less movement of the affected limb and more pain. Mirror therapy provides an experience of the affected limb moving normally without pain, which helps brain activity to increase and results in less pain.

Mirror therapy is a helpful treatment strategy for people with chronic pain or stroke. Our physical and occupational therapists have experience working with individuals with these conditions and using mirror therapy to help them reach their goals. Please contact our office at 315-810-2423 or with any questions about how we may be able to help you!

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