Mirror Therapy for MS Foot Drop

Last updated: February 2021

When it comes to the treatment of multiple sclerosis, I’ve long been a believer in a multi-discipline approach. Obviously, a good neurologist is critical in fighting the disease. However, our fight against MS shouldn’t stop there. It’s important to attack the illness on other fronts as well. Physical, occupational, and speech therapists, along with a good mental health professional can be incredibly valuable to someone with MS. While many of the latest medications elicit excitement and news, I feel it’s important to talk about some of the breakthroughs in these other disciplines as well. The results of one recent study have shown some very good promise in tackling the dreaded symptom of foot drop in MS patients. Already an established form of therapy for stroke patients, mirror therapy has now shown to be beneficial to those with MS.

What is mirror therapy?

Mirror therapy is a form of rehabilitation that has been helpful to both patients that have had strokes or lost limbs. The affected area, let’s say a left foot, is placed behind a mirror with the functional right foot in front of the mirror (there are actually “mirror boxes” built specifically for this therapy, that allow one limb to be hidden with a mirror for the functional limb). Moving the functional foot while looking at its mirror image gives your brain the illusion that the left foot is moving. This actually tricks your brain and helps stimulate the areas that would normally control that left foot. While it might be surprising, using mirror therapy to stimulate those parts of the brain has actually helped people regain function in those areas.1

MS and foot drop

The results of a recent study, published in December 2020, have shown that mirror therapy can be effective when combating the symptom of foot drop in those with MS. Researchers found that doing various ankle exercises while using a mirror box led to greater improvement when compared to people not using mirror therapy. Those using mirror therapy ended up with greater mobility and functionality and an overall improvement in their foot drop.2  While this was a small trial, the results are encouraging and could lead to this technique seeing greater use among MS patients.

Physical therapy

While mirror therapy hasn’t seen widespread use for MS patients yet, it might in the future. The publishing of this new study is a fantastic reminder of the importance that physical therapy can have in the fight against MS. We’ve had some great new disease-modifying therapies come out in recent years. However, none of them can regrow myelin, meaning that while someone may have their disease progression halted or dramatically slowed, they still suffer from the previous damage caused by the disease. That’s why we need to remember to look at other disciplines, like physical therapy, to help us alleviate our symptoms. Pretty soon, mirror therapy may be one more tool that a therapist can use to help us in the fight against foot drop.

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