Rewiring the Brain: Cutting Edge Rehabilitation Techniques

March 2, 2015

Neuroplasticity, mirror therapy and graded motor imagery

At Helen Hayes Hospital, we as clinicians strive to provide the most dynamic and most effective therapies available within our professional practices. Over the 27 years of my practicing occupational therapy, many new treatment interventions have become available and have been proven by research to be effective.

The education programs at Helen Hayes Hospital are outstanding. There is strong commitment to having staff be competent both new and traditional treatment interventions. Administration is highly supportive of staff attending continuing education programs and hosting seminars on-site. This allows staff to continually learn new methods and review old to ensure the highest quality of health care possible with the best outcomes.

Just recently, the hospital hosted the course “Rewiring the Brain: Clinical Ways to Train the Brain by Understanding Neuroplasticity, Mirror Therapy and Graded Motor Imagery.” These techniques are most effective with patients having a diagnosis, MS, Parkinson’s, head injury or amputation.

Graded motor imagery and mirror therapy can cause cortical reorganization and help facilitate changes in the brain to promote a decrease in pain and an increase in movement of an involved limb. This cortical reorganization is important as it allows the brain to better recognize the involved limb to help facilitate recovery.

During motor imagery therapy, the brain creates a visual experience that causes the brain cells to interact. The patient is asked to visualize their limb in their mind and then gradually, with help from the therapist, imagine this limb moving or being pain free. The patient is asked to think about something they liked to do prior to the injury. Then the therapist takes the patient through the activity verbally, step-by-step, so the patient is immersed in the visual imagery of performing the activity, moving beautifully and pain free.

When performing mirror box therapy, the involved limb is hidden from view behind a mirror. The unaffected limb is outside of the box, next to the mirror. When the patient looks in the mirror, he sees the unaffected limb, though visually it appears as though it is the involved limb. The brain is being tricked into believing that both limbs are now moving easily and pain free.

Both of these methods can cause cortical reorganization and facilitate improved motor function and can be used in pain management. These are just two treatment techniques in the therapists’ endless toolbox of interventions. Generally, a therapist will need to utilize many different techniques to assist a person in becoming more functional, with less pain and more movement. We are committed at Helen Hayes Hospital to provide the most effective, research-based therapy available to ensure the best outcomes for our patients.

Liz Thompson OTR/L
Clinical Specialist, Neurology