Mirror therapy is a widely used technique in neurorehabilitation for motor and sensory recovery after brain and neurological injuries. It is also extensively utilized in orthopedics and traumatology for post-surgical motor reeducation.
Traditionally, mirror therapy was performed in clinical settings using physical mirrors. However, with the advancements in digital therapy, it is now possible to effectively apply mirror therapy through virtual glasses and specific software designed for neurorehabilitation.
Next, we will introduce the benefits of mirror therapy through digital therapy for improved neurorehabilitation. Additionally, we will explain through a practical case how mirror therapy serves a purpose and can enhance fine and gross motor skills in hemiplegic patients.
What is mirror therapy?
Mirror therapy is based on the principle that visual perception of movements can activate brain circuits and promote neuroplasticity. Therefore, in mirror therapy, patients perform exercises in front of a mirror with their non-paralyzed limb while observing the reflection. This creates an illusion of normal movement in the brain for the paralyzed limb.
Mirror therapy has shown effectiveness in treating spasticity and certain types of paralysis caused by strokes, spinal cord injuries, or neurodegenerative diseases.
The efficacy of this therapy can be explained from three perspectives:
It activates motor learning through imitation, as mirror neurons are capable of recognizing an action.
The illusion of movement created by mirror therapy activates brain networks related to movement, sensation, observation and imitation, and pain regulation.
After a stroke patients often experience decreased activity in their affected cerebral hemisphere after a stroke. Visual reflection techniques like mirror therapy stimulate the injured hemisphere, promoting a better balance between both hemispheres.
Exercises performed through the Kinesix VR platform stimulate brain systems related to movement, such as mirror neurons, and help improve motor coordination, muscle strength, and range of motion in the affected limbs.
Practical Case: Mirror therapy in a hemiplegic patient using Kinesix VR
To better explain how mirror therapy works, let's consider a patient with total or partial lack of movement in an upper limb, such as the hand or arm.
When patients engage in rehabilitation exercises through the Kinesix VR platform, they see both hands represented by an avatar and are asked to perform movements. Initially, the unaffected limb conducts the training, but later, the affected limb attempts to copy the movement.
Through visual feedback, mirror therapy programs the brain to perceive the affected limb as healthy while performing specific exercises, creating the illusion that both sides of the body are working normally.
Research shows that limb function can improve after neurological injuries when mirror therapy is performed 5 to 7 days a week for approximately 30 to 60 minutes.
How to perform mirror therapy with immersive digital treatment?
Exercises and movements performed through immersive virtual reality use an avatar representation. The image of the unaffected arm is mirrored by the software towards the affected side, tricking and stimulating the brain to improve motor coordination, muscle strength, and range of motion in the affected limb.
Patients observe the movements of their unaffected side through immersive virtual reality glasses and utilize this visual information to promote activation of the corresponding brain circuits on the affected side.
Benefits of mirror therapy
In addition to the physical benefits, mirror therapy in digital therapy can positively impact patients' mental health. Neurological injuries often affect self-image and self-confidence, so exercises and activities tailored to individual capabilities can reduce frustration and improve self-perception of efficacy.
Patients can increase their motivation and self-esteem by seeing their unaffected side represented by an avatar and observing how movements are performed. This can help reduce anxiety and depression and promote a more positive attitude towards rehabilitation.
Another notable benefit of mirror therapy in digital therapy is its accessibility and convenience. Patients can perform sessions from the comfort of their own homes, eliminating the need to travel to a rehabilitation center.
This is especially advantageous for those with mobility difficulties or living in remote areas with limited access to medical care. Digital therapy allows patients to receive care without traditional geographic or logistical barriers.
It also reduces healthcare pressure, as centers, hospitals, or any location providing physiotherapeutic care can schedule exercises for motor skills recovery in agreement with the patient remotely.
It is important to note that while mirror therapy in digital therapy can be beneficial for many patients, it is essential to have the supervision and guidance of a specialized healthcare professional in neurorehabilitation.
Each person is unique and requires a personalized approach in their recovery process. A trained therapist can adapt exercises and movements according to individual needs, providing comprehensive and effective care.