How can the phantom limb be explained

Mirror therapy outwits the brain

Patients who have had an arm or leg amputated often experience attack-like pain at the site of the amputated limb, as if the arm or leg were still there. The cause is an incorrect adjustment of the brain after the amputation, which manifests itself in unfounded pain sensations.

In mirror therapy, a patient sits in front of a mirror in such a way that the amputated limb is covered. In the mirror image he can see an image of his existing arm or leg. He is given the optical illusion that the amputated part of the body is still there. If he now performs exercises with the healthy limb, he gets the impression that he can move and control the "phantom limb" again. This activates the centers in the brain that trigger phantom pain.

"In phantom pain, the brain incorrectly replaces the missing signals from an amputated part of the body with pain," explains Christoph Maier, senior physician in the pain therapy department at Bergmannsheil. "With mirror therapy we can correct this maladjustment: The patient learns to control his phantom limb, which can also significantly reduce the pain sensation."

The procedure has already been used in over 150 patients. The overwhelming majority showed significant pain relief after just a few treatments. The knowledge about mirror therapy and treatment options has increased over the past five years.

"With some patients, touch stimuli work better, with others movement exercises lead to success," says Susanne Glaudo, occupational therapist at the Bergmannsheil rehabilitation center together with Maier, she has developed two patented mirror devices that patients can use to train at home.

"The decisive advantage of mirror therapy is the lack of side effects," says Maier. "However, it is important that the therapy is carried out under the guidance of qualified specialists."

MEDICA.de; Source: Bergmannsheil University Hospital