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How Pain Can Be Helped With Mirrors

June 13th, 2007 · 4 Comments

Reflect (ha-ha) for a moment, how nice it would be, if something as simple as looking in a mirror could help lessen your pain…  Well, you might like what you see!!

Mirror image therapy is an exciting treatment for an increasing number of pain conditions.  Today we’ll look at an uncommon pain disorder – phantom pain – but one that started us down the path of using mirror image therapy for pain.

Phantom pain is pain in a part of the body that’s no longer there, e.g. from an accident, surgery, etc.  This pain is most common in limbs, but can also occur in other body parts, e.g. a breast after mastectomy.  It’s more likely to occur if pain was present before removal of the body part.

The exact causes of phantom pain are uncertain, but ideas include:

  • a brain “memory” of pain, if there was pain before an amputation
  • re-wiring of nerve circuits in the brain as the brain experiences a change in incoming sensations from the body part that’s now missing
  • abnormal re-growth in the cut nerve endings

The most interesting possible explanation for phantom limb pain involves the brain’s “body map.”  A newer idea, this hypothesis says that there’s an internal representation of your body in your brain.  It helps us know where our bodies are in space, even with our eyes shut.  It also helps us perform movements, without having to think about each little part of a complex movement.

When there’s a mis-match between the brain’s internal image and the sensations that register as being from the missing body part, the brain may interpret these as pain.

For example, if I want to pick up a cup, my brain needs to figure out things like …

  • where my hand is now
  • where my  hand is each time my muscles move it, to make interim adjustments
  • what force I need to create to pick something up, etc.

My brain also gets sensations as I’m performing this task:

  • what position my hand is in to start
  • what position my hand is in as my muscles move it
  • what force I’m exerting on the cup, etc.

When there are problems with these outgoing and incoming sensations, pain can occur.  For example, when my brain sends a message to my hand to open, but nothing happens, problems can start.   Likewise, when my brain sends that message to open my hand, but there are no sensations coming back of my hand opening, problems can start.

2 excellent websites where you can learn more, as well as purchase a mirror with instructions for use:

Mirror Box Therapy

Noi Group

In my next post about mirror image therapy, we’ll look at how it can help CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) or RSD.


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4 responses so far ↓

  • jeisea // Jun 14, 2007 at 3:53 am

    I have had great success with mirror therapy for relieving pain and symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome. The new knowledge of mirror neurons helps with understanding the science behind this therapy I think. This is really dealing with chronic pain at its source not just bandaiding the symptoms. I know you have people from all over the world who visit this site. There are NOI Group links for the UK, Europe and the USA whic can be found on the site you have mentioned. Are you aware that “NAPP Pharmaceuticals, pioneers of prolonged released drugs for the relief of severe pain have purchased 2,500 Mirror Therapy Boxes for complimentary distribution to pain clinics throughout the UK.” This is in recognition of the value of this new therapy. I hope you don’t mind if I give you the link to this information.

    http://www.webwire.com/ViewPressRel.asp?aId=27355
    WebWire | Pharmaceutical Company buys 2,500 drug-free Mirror Therapy Boxes for UK pain clinics

    I really hope that other drug companies take up the challenge.

    jeisea

  • HtCwP // Jun 14, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    Thanks for the info, Jeisea. Jeisea also has some great info on how she uses mirrors on her website, http://www.crps-rsd-a-better-life.blogspot.com/.

  • Larry // Jun 15, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    Hello,

    Have you ever heard of or tried Farabloc (www.farabloc.com) for your pain?

    As an amputee, I have used this fabric on my stump to relieve phantom pain, stump pain and nerve pain. I also use it on my shoulder and lower back for pain relief. This has allowed me to eliminate my consumption of prescription drugs completely.

    Thanks for the good info on your blog. Keep up the good work!

    Larry
    http://www.amputee.ca

  • How to Cope with Pain // Jun 15, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    Hi Larry,
    No, I’ve never heard of the product. I’ll check with their website. Thanks for the information!

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