Phantom limb pain is accepted by the medical community as a real issue despite the fact that little is known about the phenomenon. Researchers suspect that the pain is the result of both physical and neurological issues. The brain continues to try to communicate with the limb after amputation, resulting in discomfort and painful sensations for the amputee.
The rising numbers of amputees have rejuvenated interest in phantom limb pain during the past decade. In addition to traditional pharmaceutical treatments, many patients have been seeking alternative approaches. Mirror therapy is among the treatments that has shown promise for diminishing the pain felt by amputees.
Many may be surprised to learn that mirror therapy has its origins in the Civil War. In the North Officers who suffered battlefield amputations were often provided with a mirror while in their sickbed. The wounded Officer was instructed to look at the sound limb in the mirror to receive "mental relief" from the trauma.
Mirror therapy reemerged at the beginning of this century as a promising treatment for phantom limb pain. Several research studies have been conducted and, although it is not completely understood why, participants report a drastic decrease in pain and discomfort after mirror therapy. It is theorized that the brain is "tricked" into believing that a connection is being made to the missing limb. When the brain believes that a connection is made, the nerves stop misfiring resulting in diminished pain.
A survey of area pain clinics revealed that many physicians are open to utilizing mirror therapy as a treatment for phantom limb pain. Although self-guided protocols are available on the internet, experts recommend that the amputee be trained in order to yield optimum results. The use of a mirror in conjunction with visualization techniques has proved the most successful approach.
This article provides a good explanation of the treatment of phantom limb pain with mirror therapy. Have you ever tried mirror therapy? What do you think about this treatment approach?