What is mirror therapy?
Let’s start with the first question most people are thinking: what is mirror therapy(mirror box therapy)? Mirror therapy for stroke rehab is an easy and low-tech therapy technique. It’s essentially a therapy that tricks your brain into thinking that the weakened hand or arm is moving. This is designed to stimulate a network of the brain called mirror neurons to assist with hand and arm recovery. Mirror therapy is especially useful after stroke, it's also called "mirror box therapy or mirror box exercises".
Table of contents
- How can I do mirror therapy at home?
- Why does it work?
- What exercises can I perform with mirror therapy?
- Can rehabilitation technology devices trigger mirror neurons?
All you need is a mirror and a table!
Here is the simple guide for your mirror box therapy. Please follow these steps for your effective mirror box exercises. (Please have a consultation with your medical doctor for your safety.)
- Place your affected arm behind a mirror so that when looking into the mirror the reflection of the unaffected arm appears in place of the hidden one.
- While looking into the mirror try to perform a series of basic movement exercises with both hands. The image that your brain receives from the mirror is a picture of two hands moving smoothly in unison. This mirror image ‘tricks’ your brain into thinking that your weakened arm is moving just as well as your other arm!
Anytime you move your arm, it’s because motor neurons fired in your brain which told your muscles to move. Mirror neurons, on the other hand, fire simply from seeing a movement occur.
After a stroke, the motor neurons that make your muscle move are often damaged on one side of the brain and leads to poor hand control. However, there is a connected mirror neuron system that can still be triggered. Your conscious mind knows that it’s just a reflection, but the illusion makes your brain think that both hands are really moving and can jumpstart your connected motor system recovery.
Any repetitive movement exercise that isolates that hand and wrist is perfect for use with mirror therapy. Typically, slow, small movements performed many times are better in the beginning. Make sure you are thinking about both hands moving. Don’t underestimate the power of a focused mind!
Some movement options include:
- Open/close your fist
- Touch your thumb to each finger
- Turn your palm up and down
- Drum your fingertips on the table
- Give the mirror a thumbs up
- Rest your pinky on the table and wave your wrist side to side.
Can rehabilitation technology devices trigger mirror neurons?
Virtual reality-based rehab tools are taking advantage of mirror therapy principles with devices such as the Neofect Smart Glove. Instead of looking in a mirror, the user watches a screen while playing games that require repetitive movements similar to the mirror therapy exercises. The best part is, only minimal hand or arm movement for the Neofect Smart Glove to be a good fit!
The user’s movement is magnified on the screen, tricking the brain into believing that their affected arm is moving more than it actually is. By being able to see these movements on the screen, which is called biofeedback, it causes the same mirror neurons to engage. For more on biofeedback, see our previous post here.
- Siena Conde, OTR/LSiena is an occupational therapist and rehabilitation technology and clinical application specialist based out of San Francisco, CA. Siena works for Rally Health as a Clinical Content Manager.