Monday, December 10, 2012

What phantom limbs and mirrors tell us about the brain

     A research team at the University of California San Diego found results to research that suggest that a simple mind trick which involves mirrors can help ease the pain of osteoarthritis. This study was based off of V.S. Ramachandran's work in helping patients with all types of diseases and syndromes using mirrors. Ramachandran leads the way in experimental neuroscience by studying phantom limbs. Phantom limb syndrome occurs in 90% of amputees. Two-thirds of these people experience an itch in the missing limb of extreme discomfort or pain. Pain killers and surgery have no effect. For example, one of ramachandran's patients had his arm amputated and had an insatiable itch in his missing hand. On the homunculus representation in the cortex, the hand is next to the face. Ramachandran experimented by touching the patient's face with a Q-tip. When he touched the patient's cheek, the patient claimed he felt sensation on his missing hand. Ramachandran claims that the brain's plasticity allows for certain areas of the brain to adapt to other areas and their environment. Therefore, when the cortex area for the hand was no longer receiving signals, the area for the face spread to this area of cortex.
    Ramachandran continued research by building off the idea of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are known to fire when an individual watches another move a limb. Ramachandran believed that this visual perception could play an important role in creating the sensation of a movement. He tested his theory by putting a mirror between a patient's arms who had a phantom hand in which he had chronic pain that felt like his hand was always painfully clenched. After he placed the mirror between his hands he asked him to move his phantom and healthy limb simultaneously while looking at the reflection of his healthy limb. This tricked the patient's brain into thinking his phantom hand was moving in a normal way and he felt his phantom clenched fist release. The visual perception is telling your brain your hand is moving.
     Those at UCSD are in the early stages of investigating whether or not the mirror therapy can help in easing the pain of those living with osteoarthritis. I think that Ramachandran's theories have led to great discoveries that are benefitting other areas in the medical field. The mirror therapy technique is helping in so many ways.

Source :

No comments:

Post a Comment