Phantom Pain and Mirror Therapy
Phantom pain is the sensation that a limb has been taken away or damaged and is no longer there. This can be caused by numerous injuries or illnesses such as strokes and cancers; it may even manifest in people with amputations.
Phantom pain occurs when the brain is unable to communicate with nerve cells controlling muscles in an expelled limb. Although these signals still reach their intended destination, since that limb no longer exists within the body, they never reach the brain and provide no feedback. As such, the brain interprets these signals as signs of danger and registers the sensation as intense pain.
To overcome miscommunication, researchers developed mirror therapy. This seemingly straightforward technique uses a mirror box to fool the brain into believing it is seeing an artificial limb, thus relieving or eliminating phantom pain.
This technique is a form of physical therapy used to treat various ailments, such as hemiparesis and limb pain in patients with complex regional pain syndrome. It works for both single-limb amputees and double-limb amputees alike.
A study looking into the effects of mirror therapy on pain reduction among amputees discovered that it significantly reduced discomfort. However, it wasn’t as successful as other methods like mental visualization and physical exercises.
According to research, this occurs because it “rewires” the brain so that it no longer believes a limb has been missing. This can also lead to decreased pain levels in the future as your brain becomes more familiar with having that limb present.
Studies have been done on mirror therapy and its potential to reduce phantom pain. The most popular method involves the use of a mirror box in which patients place their intact hand in one hole and their missing limb in another, then move their hands in front of the mirror.
Other treatments that may help reduce phantom pain include medications, physical therapy and nerve block or neuromodulation therapies. While these methods have shown some promise in relieving phantom pain symptoms, the quality of evidence and number of studies needed to prove their effectiveness are lacking.
Mirror therapy is a relatively recent treatment for phantom pain that was first described by Ramachandran and Rogers-Ramachandran in the 1990s.
Mirror therapy’s primary goal is to counteract negative feedback experienced by nerve cells in the brain that have been trained to communicate with nerve cells from a limb that has been amputated. While these nerves can still send messages to their respective brains, they cannot receive any return signal because they were never meant for that particular limb. This creates conflict within the brain – known as negative feedback.
Mirror therapy is a non-invasive physical intervention that teaches the brain that an limb no longer exists. Unlike other therapies, mirror therapy allows patients to view their limb without using medication or other medical treatments. It’s a straightforward and non-invasive process that can be done at home or in a physical therapy clinic.