In a recent article on military amputees and their experiences with phantom limb pains, an unusual treatment cropped up — Mirror Therapy!
Phantom pain is caused by mismatched signals to the brain from the affected limb. The motor and pain neural pathways are still there down to the point of amputation. It is believed that the mismatch between the visual signals that the limb isn’t there anymore, bumps up against the remaining nerves that are still acting as if the limb is still receiving and and sending signals to them. These conflicting signals result in pain felt in a limb that is no longer there.
Looking for a solution, an army neurologist turned to a older study that looked at the use of mirrors to fool the visual cortex into thinking the limb was still present. Many were skeptical, but after dealing with pain that was unresponsive to pain killers, most were willing to give it a try and signed up for the clinical trials set up by the military. The results were pretty amazing.
90 percent of the patients using the mirror therapy had a reduction in pain and within a few months, most had significantly reduced their narcotics load. Read the article for more information. It’s cool stuff!
I’m hoping my fellow science podcaster, Ginger Campbell over at the Brain Science Podcast picks up on this one. I’d like to hear her take on it.