Knights of the Pain Table

A Camelot for Sufferers of Chronic Pain

Phantom Limb Pain in Amputees Helped by Mirror Therapy – U.S. Study

Phantom Limb Pain

“Phantom limb syndrome” is a common phenomenon in patients who have lost a limb either through an accident or surgery.     It is likely the result of a faulty signal between the brain and the missing appendage.     Neurons in the brain continue sending out signals to a limb that’s no longer there.     As a result, amputees can feel discomfort or pain and, in some cases, the sense that their missing limb is stuck in an uncomfortable position.

The sensation can be intense and pain drugs often do little to help.      At least 90 per cent of amputees report experiencing it.

Navy Cmdr. (Dr.)  Jack Tsao,  treats military amputees wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.  DC.       Dr. Tsao, associate professor of neurology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences,  in Bethesda, Md.,  conducted the first clinical trials in mirror therapy,  which is a technique to relieve the pain of  “phantom limb syndrome”.

In this study patients with lower limb amputations and significant phantom limb pain were assigned to either mirror treatment,  or covered mirror,  or mental visualization groups.    The patients with the mirror technique saw a reflected image of their intact limb. For example,   one patient put a standard 6-foot-long mirror lengthwise between his left leg and the residual stump on his right side, with the mirror reflecting the intact leg.    He moved the leg,   watching the movement in the mirror and imagining that his missing leg was making the movements.

The patients in the mirror treatment group,   spent 15 minutes a day five days a week for four weeks trying to move the amputate limb while viewing the reflected image of the movement of their intact limb.     By viewing the reflected image of the intact limb the mind appeared to be fooled into thinking that the lost limb still existed and was moving normally.

The researchers found that after four weeks of treatment, pain intensity dropped dramatically in the mirror group.     Every person in that group reported less pain.

Dr. Tsao is quick to say mirror therapy doesn’t work for everybody, but it definitely is a way too improve therapy.     Even patients whose pain remains after the therapy, reported less severe symptoms.

Dr. Tsao says it’s unclear why mirror therapy works.    The technique has been in use for years, but few controlled studies on it exist.    The technique may relieve pain by helping the brain reconcile what the body is feeling with what the eyes are seeing.

The U.S. researchers are planning a similar test in people who have lost arms.

The results of the clinical trials were published this past fall in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Source:  U.S Department of Defense

Learn more about  Mirror Box Therapy

Watch a video of discussing of Vilayanur Ramachandran, a neurologist discussing Mirror Box Therapy.

Lady Sharon,
Scribe of the Knights of the Pain Table News

About The Author


6 Responses to “Phantom Limb Pain in Amputees Helped by Mirror Therapy – U.S. Study”

  1. Fargo ND says:

    I am currently trying this therapy with the help of my wife. I have been doing it three days and hopefully we replicate what the articles have been reporting.

  2. Lady Sharon says:

    Dear Friend,

    I thanketh you for letting us know that you are trying this therapy. The great thing about it is that it is easy to do and not harmful to you.
    The brain is an amazing part of our body. I have read that the brain cannot always distinguish between visualization and reality. That is why atheletes visualize their performance many times before competition. By doing this the brain thinks it has already achieved this accomplishment.
    I have never suffered an amputation but I know it takes tremendous courage to continue with life when you have lost part of yourself. We honour you in Camelot and bow to your strength.

    Our prayers are with you as you use strategy in your battle with the Dark Knight. If you have time let us know how you are doing.

    Your humble scribe,
    Lady Sharon

  3. Fargo ND says:

    We appreciate your comment, Lady Sharon. My health warrior indeed endureth great travails in his quest for a talisman against the dragonfire pain. We don’t usually enscribe our words in such grandeloquence, but we invite you to visit my blog at Prairie Sun Rising where we blog about all sorts of issues, including health and wellness….and dragons.
    ~ Prairie Sunshine, lady-in-waiting

  4. Lady Sharon says:

    Noble Prairie Sunshine,

    You walketh with words of olden times and I smile. A visit I did make to your Kingdom of Prairie Sun Rising and I was welcomed with refreshing spirit and wisdom.

    “Prairie is a wide open space you carry in your heart wherever you go.” you have written. Like Camelot what we carry in our heart is always with us.

    One early day in one November I drove through Fargo and spent one night there on my way out west. I loved North Dakota and wished I could have spent some time there. Thou art fine people.

    Go forth with our prayers as you continue your quest.

    Lady Sharon,
    Fond of Fargo, ND

  5. Petralio says:

    Ramachandram was the discoverer of mirror therapy. Tsao is his disciple. Reach further back with your research and fact-checking. Please give proper credit where it is truly due.

  6. Lady Sharon says:

    Dear Petralio,

    I thank you for taking the time to write your thoughts. I appreciate when visitors share their experience.

    The purpose of the article was to help others with their suffering. I did not focus on the history of Mirror Therapy. I did not mention who discovered this therapy, so my facts were correct based on the information I read in the sources, which I posted.

    Vilayanur Ramachandran MD, PhD , according to Wikipedia, is responsible for introducing mirror box therapy for phantom limb pain.
    We would like to honor V.S. Ramachandran, as he has helped those who suffer with this pain. He has been a White Knight to those in pain.

    It is wonderful when we work together to make sure the words and facts are true.

    Thank you Petralio and please visit us again.

    Lady Sharon
    Scribe of Camelot