Mirror therapy may provide some improvement in the ability to move limbs affected by stroke, according to a recent review of the scientific literature on this rehabilitative treatment.
In mirror therapy, a stroke survivor who has a paralyzed arm sits at a table with a specially designed mirror directly in front of him; the mirror stands upright, but is turned sideways. If a leg is paralyzed, a mirror is positioned on a bench. The patient places the healthy limb opposite the reflective side of the mirror and the paralyzed limb on the other side. While looking into the mirror, the patient performs a variety of exercises with the healthy limb, such as stretching the fingers and flexing the elbow and wrist, while imagining his affected limb doing the same movements.
In theory, mirror therapy works by activating nerve cells in the brain that respond when you move a limb, as well as when you see a limb move. A review of 62 studies of mirror therapy found that it modestly improves arm movement and the ability to perform daily activities as part of an overall rehabilitation plan. The findings were published in 2018 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
If you try mirror therapy, plan on doing the exercises for at least 30 minutes a day for up to eight weeks to get results.