Using a mirror to ‘fool’ the brain into seeing a missing limb can certainly aid with reducing phantom pain. Sometimes, electrodes are placed on the ‘good’ leg as well so the brain senses ‘electrical sensation.’ In some cases, another electrode is placed on the ‘stump’ of the other leg. In very basic, non-technical terms, this is to ‘help train’ the brain and the nerves to accept ‘where’ the pain sensors are now located.
In the case of a stroke patient, however, there is no missing limb. Again, the brain needs to be ‘rewired,’ so to speak, to allow both feeling and function to return into the non-functional limb.
Of course, this works just as well with the upper body limbs; missing or non-functional, as seen above. With or without electrodes placed on either or both arms/hands, the mirror reflects the functional limb; and the brain ‘thinks’ it sees the affected arm in the mirror. This works quite well when exercise is added. Often, the good hand will go through exercise, while the non functional limb is hidden from view inside a box. To the brain, apparently, the mirror shows both limbs undergoing exercise; and, surprisingly, sometime times the non-functioning hand will start to ‘mimic’ what is seen in the mirror. Not full function, mind you, to begin with; but often the fingers will move and the tendons and muscles in the hand, wrist and arm will begin to flex. Again, in layman’s terms, this is an example of the brain repairing (or more likely, ‘rewiring’) itself to make the arm and hand functional once more.
The beauty of using mirrors or Mirror Boxes is, one doesn’t have to just have therapy in the doctor’s office or clinic. The motivated patient, can do exercise every day at home; perhaps, not with neuromuscular stimulation, but with exercise.
Mirror boxes can be made any side to accommodate feet, legs or arm/hands. And, depending upon the nature of the disability, one may be able to simply place a mirror between limbs. Or, if making a box, one can sit in a chair, put their foot in and do exercise. But remember, one does not have to be sitting to do this. Refer back to the photo on the last blog… one can simply lay on a bed or sofa with a full or half length mirror between the legs as well.
For hands, it is much easier. Here are the directions for making your own Mirror Box for hand use. However, just a plain cardboard box will work just as well and is fast to make. Not fancy… but it works!
This first, is more of a pyramid, so to speak. Three pieces of 12″ x 12″ wood, cardboard or cork-board is required, as is a ‘sticky’ duct tape and a 12″x 12″ mirror.
Make a box or three sided triangle as shown in the photo. Attach sides. (Mirror is reflecting material from wall) Make sure to use extra sticky tape, if using just cardboard or Cork Board.
Place the mirror on one side and use double stick tape or ‘glue’ to hold it in place, as the photo at the top of this page shows. The box is ready to use. It’s that quick and easy. Of course, one can purchase ready made boxes to use, or can make as ‘fancy’ or expensive a box as one wants. This box, cost only $15 to make.
But, it can be done even more quickly and easily, as show in the following pictures:
A plate easel can be used, to hold a mirror, as can the bottom of a cardboard box or even just ‘taping’ a mirror to a box or container. Anything which can, safely, uphold a mirror, can be used. In our office, if our mirror boxes are in use, and we need another, we will quickly tape a 12″ x 12″ mirror to a handled equipment box to be easily carried from one room to another.
The key to using a Mirror Box is ‘blocking’ the view of the affected limb from the eyes/brain; while ‘fooling’ the brain into seeing a ‘healthy, working’ limb.