Researchers exploring mirror therapy to reduce phantom limb pain

Researchers at Temple University are studying the use of mirror therapy to potentially reduce limb pain in combat veterans with complex orthopedic injury or nerve damage.

Mirror therapy is a rehabilitative technique that uses a common mirror to display a reflection of the patient’s healthy limb where the injured limb would be. When the patient moves the healthy limb, the mirror provides an optical illusion that the injured limb is moving at the same time.

According to the researchers, this method seems to trick the brain into believing that the injured limb is functioning normally, in turn reducing pain and spasms.

“Mirror therapy has been shown to relieve phantom pain in amputees, but this pilot study could prompt doctors to consider this kind of therapy for patients with upper extremity injuries,” Eric Altschuler, PhD, associate professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Temple University School of Medicine, said in a press release.

The pilot study will focus on combat veterans with complex orthopedic and peripheral nerve injuries, according to the release. Patients will have significant injuries to two or more joints, muscles or nerves in the same limb, as well as ongoing pain that interferes with activities of daily living.

Treatment will involve 15 to 30 minutes of therapy, 5 to 6 days a week. Parts of the therapy will be administered by researchers while others will be done at home by the patients. Researchers will track progress over 8 weeks to see if there is reduction in pain or other symptoms.

Altschuler is hopeful that people with severe injuries may be able to regain mobility, reduce pain, spasms and stiffness with this technique. He also hopes to apply findings to the greater civilian population.


Disclosure: Altsculer reports the research is funded by the Milbank Veterans Rehabilitation grant from the Foundation for Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation.

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