Clinician Article

Mirror therapy for improving motor function after stroke.

  • Thieme H
  • Morkisch N
  • Mehrholz J
  • Pohl M
  • Behrens J
  • Borgetto B, et al.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Jul 11;7:CD008449. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008449.pub3. (Review)
PMID: 29993119
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  • Neurology
    Relevance - 6/7
    Newsworthiness - 5/7
  • Internal Medicine
    Relevance - 5/7
    Newsworthiness - 4/7


BACKGROUND: Mirror therapy is used to improve motor function after stroke. During mirror therapy, a mirror is placed in the person's midsagittal plane, thus reflecting movements of the non-paretic side as if it were the affected side.

OBJECTIVES: To summarise the effectiveness of mirror therapy compared with no treatment, placebo or sham therapy, or other treatments for improving motor function and motor impairment after stroke. We also aimed to assess the effects of mirror therapy on activities of daily living, pain, and visuospatial neglect.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched the Cochrane Stroke Group's Trials Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, AMED, PsycINFO and PEDro (last searched 16 August 2017). We also handsearched relevant conference proceedings, trials and research registers, checked reference lists, and contacted trialists, researchers and experts in our field of study.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and randomised cross-over trials comparing mirror therapy with any control intervention for people after stroke.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently selected trials based on the inclusion criteria, documented the methodological quality, assessed risks of bias in the included studies, and extracted data. We assessed the quality of the evidence using the GRADE approach. We analysed the results as standardised mean differences (SMDs) or mean differences (MDs) for continuous variables, and as odds ratios (ORs) for dichotomous variables.

MAIN RESULTS: We included 62 studies with a total of 1982 participants that compared mirror therapy with other interventions. Of these, 57 were randomised controlled trials and five randomised cross-over trials. Participants had a mean age of 59 years (30 to 73 years). Mirror therapy was provided three to seven times a week, between 15 and 60 minutes for each session for two to eight weeks (on average five times a week, 30 minutes a session for four weeks).When compared with all other interventions, we found moderate-quality evidence that mirror therapy has a significant positive effect on motor function (SMD 0.47, 95% CI 0.27 to 0.67; 1173 participants; 36 studies) and motor impairment (SMD 0.49, 95% CI 0.32 to 0.66; 1292 participants; 39 studies). However, effects on motor function are influenced by the type of control intervention. Additionally, based on moderate-quality evidence, mirror therapy may improve activities of daily living (SMD 0.48, 95% CI 0.30 to 0.65; 622 participants; 19 studies). We found low-quality evidence for a significant positive effect on pain (SMD -0.89, 95% CI -1.67 to -0.11; 248 participants; 6 studies) and no clear effect for improving visuospatial neglect (SMD 1.06, 95% CI -0.10 to 2.23; 175 participants; 5 studies). No adverse effects were reported.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: The results indicate evidence for the effectiveness of mirror therapy for improving upper extremity motor function, motor impairment, activities of daily living, and pain, at least as an adjunct to conventional rehabilitation for people after stroke. Major limitations are small sample sizes and lack of reporting of methodological details, resulting in uncertain evidence quality.

Clinical Comments

Internal Medicine

As an Internal Medicine physician, I find this is useful information. We do not routinely refer post-stroke patients for Mirror Therapy. Within the limits of current quality of data, it appears to be a reasonable and low-risk intervention to offer to the post-stroke patient.

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