Mirror therapy for stroke rehab helps improve severe arm and hand impairments.
Below you will learn how to do mirror therapy in 3 steps, along with some useful mirror therapy exercise guides.
At the end, we’ll share a success story of how mirror therapy helps stroke patients with arm and hand paralysis recovery!
Let’s dive right in.
How Mirror Therapy for Stroke Rehab Works
Mirror therapy (informally known as mirror box therapy) involves the use of a tabletop mirror for stroke rehabilitation – most often for the arm and hands.
The box mirror is used to create a reflection of your non-affected arm or hand in place of your affected side during therapy.
During mirror therapy, you perform various stroke recovery exercises with your non-affected side.
The mirror image ‘tricks’ your brain into thinking that your affected arm is moving like your unaffected arm.
Although your conscious mind knows that it’s just a reflection, the illusion helps your brain rewire itself through a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity.
Mirror neurons also play a role, but we’ll get to that in a second.
How to Do Mirror Therapy
There are 3 steps to doing mirror therapy for stroke recovery:
- Place a tabletop mirror over your affected side with the mirror facing your non-affected arm and hand.
- Position the mirror so that it looks like the reflection of your non-affected side is taking the place of your affected side.
- In this position, practice 30 minutes of any arm, wrist, or finger exercises of your choice.
While performing rehab exercises as normal, the mirror will help your brain rewire itself and improve your motor skills.
While this phenomenon revolves around neuroplasticity, some of the success can be attributed to the mirror neurons in your brain.
Next, we’ll discuss the difference between motor neurons and mirror neurons, then move on to how it helps with stroke recovery.
Mirror Neurons Make Mirror Therapy Helpful for Stroke
When you move, it’s because motor neurons fired in your brain which told your muscles to move.
Mirror neurons, however, fire when you simply SEE a movement occur.
When you watch someone move, your mirror neurons are firing. When you make a movement yourself, your motor neurons are firing.
Mirror therapy triggers mirror neurons to fire when you see the illusion of your affected side moving in the mirror.
Even though it’s just a reflection of your unaffected arm, studies have shown that your brain still perceives it as your affected arm and your mobility can improve.
To help you improve mobility in your affected side, we’ll share some mirror therapy exercises and a success story next.
Mirror Therapy Exercises to Try at Home
If you are still going to inpatient or outpatient therapy, ask your physical therapist for some good mirror therapy exercises.
If you are doing rehab solo, we have some great exercise guides for you to try:
- Hand exercises for stroke patients
- Arm exercises for stroke patients
- Fine motor exercises for stroke patients
Try to pick exercises that you can do effectively with the mirror. Typically, smaller movements work best.
Here’s how stroke survivor Margaret overcame hand paralysis with mirror therapy combined with hand exercise:
Stroke Recovery Mirror Therapy Success Story
A stroke survivor named Margaret was determined to help her husband recover hand movement after stroke.
Although his physical therapist tried mirror therapy with no luck, Margaret got creative: she combined mirror therapy with MusicGlove hand therapy.
She unconventionally placed MusicGlove (a hand rehab device) on her husband’s NON-affected hand and then mirrored his movements with his affected hand.
This successfully helped him regain movement in his paralyzed hand.
You can read the hand paralysis story if you’re interested.