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  • Writer's pictureEngage PT, OT, SLP Therapy and Wellness

Research Review: Improving Function with Motor Imagery

Neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease and stroke affect motor function and physical independence which has a profound impact on a person’s quality of life. While traditional rehabilitation approaches (for example, constraint induced therapy) help people regain motor skills, researchers have begun to study the effectiveness of an additional way to improve functional outcomes: motor imagery.

Motor imagery, sometimes referred to as mental practice, involves rehearsing movements of affected body parts without ever actually attempting to perform the movement. Mental practice helps the brain rewire and form new connections in the motor cortex responsible for voluntary movement. There are two distinct types of motor imagery: kinesthetic (imagining the feeling associated with performing a movement) and visual (imagining the movement itself).

Several studies have examined the effectiveness of motor imagery in improving motor function among adults with neurological disorders:

1. Stroke: Studies have shown that incorporating motor imagery alongside traditional physical therapy after a stroke can lead to better outcomes. A study published in the "Journal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases" found that stroke survivors who engaged in motor imagery exercises exhibited improved upper limb function, strength, and coordination compared to those who received conventional therapy alone.

2. Parkinson's Disease: Research into the effectiveness of specific types of motor imagery practice in managing Parkinson's disease is still developing. A literature review from "Brain Sciences" found that individuals with Parkinson's who practiced motor imagery experienced improved gait, balance and pain control. Overall, findings suggest that mental rehearsal of movement patterns could complement medication and other treatments for managing the disease's motor symptoms.

3. Multiple Sclerosis (MS): A 2016 randomized controlled trial published in “Multiple Sclerosis Journal“ found that rhythmic-cued motor imagery improves walking, fatigue and quality of life in people with MS, with music-cued motor imagery being more effective.

While motor imagery is not a replacement for traditional rehabilitation, it represents a simple, low-cost approach for enhancing motor function in adults with neurological disorders. Its non-invasive nature, cost-effectiveness, and accessibility make it an attractive option for individuals seeking to regain control over their movements and improve their quality of life.

As research in this area continues to evolve, the therapists at Engage continue to seek out the most up-to-date and evidence-based approaches to incorporate motor imagery into personalized rehabilitation plans. Through the power of the mind-body connection, we can open new doors to recovery and offer hope to those striving to overcome the challenges posed by neurological disorders. Please contact our office at 315-810-2423 or with any questions about how we may be able to help you!

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