The treatment, being developed by researchers from the University of Bath and the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases (RNHRD), is based on a new theory about how people experience pain even when doctors can find no direct cause.
This 'cortical' model of pain suggests that the brain's image of the body can become faulty, resulting in a mismatch between the brain's movement control systems and its sensory systems, causing a person to experience pain when they move a particular hand, foot or limb.
Researchers believe that this kind of problem could be behind a host of pain-related disorders, such as complex regional pain syndrome and repetitive strain injury.
In an investigation of whether this system can be corrected using mirrors to trick the brain, researchers asked a number of patients with complex regional pain syndrome (a chronic debilitating condition affecting 10,000 20,000 patients in the UK at any one time) to carry out routine exercises in front of a mirror.
More than half experienced pain relief during and after the exercise and further investigations showed that even greater improvements can be achieved if the tasks are practiced beforehand.
"By using a mirror reflection of a normal limb to convince the brain that everything is alright, we have found that we can correct this imbalance and help alleviate pain in complex regional pain syndrome," said Dr Candy McCabe who works in the University of Bath's School for Health and the RNHRD.
"We think it is the same system that is triggered when you are running down stairs, miss the last step and then feel a jolt of surprise.