Motor Imagery / Mental Practice
What is Motor Imagery?
Motor imagery (MI) involves activation of the neural system while a person imagines performing a task or body movement without actually physically performing the movement. MI has been used after a stroke to attempt to treat loss of arm, hand and lower extremity movement, to help improve performance in activities of daily living, to help improve gait, and to minimize the effects of unilateral spatial neglect. Motor imagery can be used in the acute phase, sub-acute phase or chronic phase of rehabilitation.
It has been shown that while motor imagery is beneficial by itself, it is most effective when used in addition to physical practice. In fact, many of the first studies on MI were designed to investigate whether MI improved motor performance in athletes.
Brain scanning techniques have shown that similar areas of the brain are activated during MI and physical movement. In addition, MI has been shown in one study to help the brain reorganize its neural pathways, which may help promote learning of motor tasks after a stroke.
NOTE: It is to be noted that this intervention is still in the early stages of scientific investigation for treatment post-stroke and as such there are few RCTs available to guide decisions regarding the effectiveness of this treatment.
Authors*: Angela Kim, B.Sc., Adam Kagan, B.Sc.; Emilie Belley B.A. Psychology, B.Sc PT; Mathilde Parent-Vachon Bsc PT; Josee-Anne Filion; Alison Nutter; Marie Saulnier; Stephanie Shedleur, Bsc PT; Tsz Ting Wan, BSc PT; Elissa Sitcoff, BA BSc; Nicol Korner-Bitensky, PhD OT
Expert Reviewer: Stephen Page, PhD (C)