Mirror Therapy for CRPS and Phantom Limb Pain


Mirror therapy is a drug-free treatment used to treat complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and phantom limb pain. It is a relatively simple treatment and is often successful in providing some degree of pain relief in approximately 80% of individuals.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) occurs when there is dysfunction in the central or peripheral nervous system resulting in high levels of nerve impulses sent to the affected location of the body. CRPS pain is intense, gets worse over time, and can spread to other parts of the body. CRPS limits movement and also causes swelling and limb discoloration. In CRPS, a mirror box can be used for pain reduction. Mirror therapy for CRPS is a straightforward treatment in which the individual places the limb that is affected by CRPS into a mirror-therapy box while watching the non-affected limb in the mirror on the outside of the box. The affected limb stays covered, so the brain doesn't see it. The individual then performs simple mimicking exercises with both limbs (as much as possible with the affected limb) and watches the healthy limb in the mirror. This creates the illusion of a pain-free limb in the mirror. The brain sees a healthy limb full of movement with no discoloration and is fooled into thinking that the CRPS affected limb is healthy and mobile; therefore, the pain signals sent from the brain decrease. Mirror therapy has proven to be very effective in treating CRPS.

Phantom limb pain is a neuropathic pain that is felt after a limb or part of a limb has been removed. It mostly presents in the area of amputated limbs (arms and legs). Phantom limb pain occurs because the brain still attempts to move the limb that is no longer there. Since this is impossible, pain signals are sent to the area. Mirror therapy works by tricking the brain into thinking that a limb is still present and moving. Since pain originates in the brain, and it is fooled into seeing a healthy limb, mistaken pain signals are no longer sent.

Mirror therapy is usually done for approximately fifteen-minute sessions 3-4 times per week for an extended period of time. Mirror therapy is an excellent treatment for CRPS and phantom limb pain especially in combination with other treatments or when other pain-reducing methods have failed.

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