Mirror therapy: A potential intervention for pain management

Priscilla G. Wittkopf Mark I. Johnson About the authors

Summary

The consequences of chronic pain and associated disabilities to the patient and to the health care system are well known. Medication is often the first treatment of choice for chronic pain, although side effects and high costs restrict long-term use. Inexpensive, safe and easy to self-administer non-pharmacological therapies, such as mirror therapy, are recommended as adjuncts to pain treatment. The purpose of this review is to describe the principles of use of mirror therapy so it can be incorporated into a health care delivery. The physiological rationale of mirror therapy for the management of pain and the evidence of clinical efficacy based on recent systematic reviews are also discussed. Mirror therapy, whereby a mirror is placed in a position so that the patient can view a reflection of a body part, has been used to treat phantom limb pain, complex regional pain syndrome, neuropathy and low back pain. Research evidence suggests that a course of treatment (four weeks) of mirror therapy may reduce chronic pain. Contraindications and side effects are few. The mechanism of action of mirror therapy remains uncertain, with reintegration of motor and sensory systems, restored body image and control over fear-avoidance likely to influence outcome. The evidence for clinical efficacy of mirror therapy is encouraging, but not yet definitive. Nevertheless, mirror therapy is inexpensive, safe and easy for the patient to self-administer.

Keywords:
chronic pain; self care; pain/physiopathology/psychology

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