11/17/2011 01:41 pm ET

Mirror Therapy May Reduce Arthritis Pain, New Study Says

A recent study presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience suggests that pain caused by arthritis may be relieved using mirrors.

The optical illusion treatment has been used successfully to treat amputees with phantom limb pain, and it may now become a more affordable option for arthritis sufferers who rely on expensive pain medications, according to a report in the Daily Mail.

Researchers at the University of California conducted the study among a small sample of participants. Those who underwent mirror therapy for about one minute reported a decrease in joint paint.

The Guardian details how the therapy was conducted:

To treat a person with an arthritic right hand, the patient first put their hand on the table in front of them. The researchers then positioned an upright mirror so that their forearm and hand were hidden behind it.

Next, one of the researchers stood behind the patient and put their own left hand down on the table. The patient could now see the researcher's hand and its reflection in the mirror.

The optical illusion occurred when the researcher opened and closed their left hand and asked the patient to mimic the movement with their hidden hand. When the patient looked into the mirror, they saw a reflection of the researcher's hand, but the brain took it to be their own.

Participants also reported lower pain levels when they held objects that were "smaller and lighter" than they appeared, according to the Los Angeles Times. A larger followup study is reportedly underway.

For a better visualization of how the therapy works, watch the video clip (at about 1:25) below.