Mirror Therapy - Patient and Family Information
What is Mirror Therapy?
Sometimes, after limb loss, patients can still have feelings in the leg that has been amputated. It can be painful and upsetting to feel things like pain, itching, heat, cold in a leg that you cannot touch or move. Mirror Therapy is a treatment we can use to “trick the brain” into thinking that the leg is still there, and that it moves well and does not hurt. Research has shown that this “tricking of the brain” actually works. It sends signals to areas in the brain that can cause feelings in the amputated leg. This has been shown to actually decrease that “phantom” pain.
How do I do it?
All you need is a tall mirror- the kind you might hang on the back of a closet door. You can buy one cheaply at many area stores including Home Depot, Menards, Target, and Walmart.
Sit down on the bed, couch, or floor, with your legs straight in front of you. Place the mirror between your legs, with the reflective side facing your good leg. When you look into the mirror, you should see you leg reflected there, “tricking” your brain into thinking it is your amputated leg.
Now move your leg, doing the exercises your therapist has given you. You should not look at your amputated leg behind the mirror, just look into the mirror. The image you see will make it seem like your amputated leg is moving, without pain. This information is sent to your brain, and over time can decrease your pain. Some people feel relief right away, other need a little time to feel the effects of this treatment.
How often do I need to practice?
Your physical therapist will help you come up with a program that is right for you. They will help you decide what exercises to do; how long each mirror therapy session should be; and how many times a day or week you should do this treatment. A good goal is to work up to 15 minutes a day. This can be broken up into 5 minutes, 3 times a day, or all at once. You and your therapist can come up with a routine that works best for you.
Darnall BD, Li H. Home-based self-delivered mirror therapy for phantom pain: A pilot study. J Rehabil Med. 2012;44:254-260. doi:10.2340/16501977-0933.
Chan BL, Witt R, Charrow AP, Magee A, et al. Mirror therapy for phantom limb pain. N. Engl. J. Med 2007; 357:2206
MacLachlan M, McDonald D, WAloch J. Mirror treatment of lower limb phantom pain: A case study. Disabil Rehabil. 2004: 26: 901-904
Ramachandran VS, Altschuler E. The use of visual feedback, in particular mirror visual feedback, in restoring brain function. Brain. 2009:132;1693-1710
UPI Video. Treating 'phantom limb pain' with mirror therapy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YL_6OMPywnQ. Uploaded on July 27, 2009
Stroke Engine Intervention. Canadian Stroke Network. Patient/Family Mirror Therapy PDF http://strokengine.ca/intervention/index.php?page=topic&subpage=patient&id=49
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 08/06/2013
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