What we learned about mirror therapy from almost 2000 patients

September 3, 2018

Stroke tends to affect one side more than the other. It can leave us feeling off-balance and weaker on one side. Sometimes, people may be unable to stand up straight, or even use their arm or leg on their affected side. Physical therapy and exercises bring you a long way on your recovery path. But is there something else that can help?

A creative way to use a mirror

Sometimes, people try a treatment called mirror therapy. Mirror therapy involves placing a mirror in a particular way so you can see the good side of your body reflected to represent your affected side. The mirror stands in line with the middle of your body. That way, you see the unaffected half reflected in it, as if its the affected side of your body. It creates the optical illusion that your weak hand or leg is moving normally again. Initially, this technique was meant for people suffering from chronic pain. Now, stroke patients can benefit from mirror therapy too. It’s pretty easy to set up, even if you might be severely disabled. You can also do it on your own at home!

Does mirror therapy work?

But, does it even work? German researchers took on the enormous task of looking at the 62 studies out there about mirror therapy and stroke. Compiling all these studies, a total of 1982 patients were included. The data showed that mirror therapy resulted in moderate improvement of motor function and daily activities. Mirror therapy also seemed to work well for people suffering from post-stroke complex regional pain syndrome, which is a chronic pain caused by damage to the nerves. However, authors couldn’t tell if mirror therapy helped with neglect, which is when people have a hard time noticing things in the visual field on their bad side.

Try it today with your regular therapy!

It looks like mirror therapy really can’t hurt you if you want to try it. But don’t think that it could replace the efforts of hard work and physical therapy! We shouldn’t use mirror therapy instead of these other standard therapies but as a supplement. Right now, we just don’t know if it is as good as other treatments. But it wouldn’t hurt to try it along with the training you do with your therapist!

The lead author of this study was Dr. Holm Thieme, the Erste Europäische Schule für Physiotherapie, Ergotherapie und Logopädie, Klinik Bavaria Kreischa, Kreischa,  Saxony, Germany.

Editorial note:

Mirror therapy is being used more and more to regain functionality on your affected side.

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