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

What is Graded Motor Imagery?

Therapy can help with pain
GMI can help with head and neck pain

Graded motor imagery (GMI) is a treatment that was designed to help people with chronic, complex pain. GMI involves exposure to specific images, either real or imagined, to help rewire your brain away from pain. GMI uses concepts of neuroplasticity, or rewiring your brain, to help your brain stop associating a body part with pain and instead imagine it as pain free. Researchers have found that people with chronic pain experience changes in areas of the brain associated with the painful area. Over time, chronic pain in one area results in the brain overemphasizing signals to that area, and it starts to interpret normal feelings or movements as painful. Use of GMI has been shown to restore brain activity to the levels that were present before chronic pain began. This means that your brain adapts and learns how to process information to that area more normally, instead of interpreting all signals as painful.

GMI involves 4 parts: Right left discrimination, imagining movement, mirror therapy, and graded exposure. Right left discrimination involves looking at images and determining if it is showing the left or right side of the body. Research has shown that identifying this quickly and accurately is linked to lower pain levels. Imagining movements involves imagining the affected body part doing things that you want to do without pain. This reinforces positive pathways in your brain to link movement of the body part with pleasant, pain free experiences. Mirror therapy involves use of a mirror and the non affected side, to visualize your affected body part moving normally without pain. This visualization helps your brain experience a pain free movement on the affected side, which reduces the association between movement and pain. Graded exposure involves gradually reintroducing your body to movements that previously were painful, but in doses that allow your brain to adapt and experience them without significantly increasing pain signals. Although there are 4 parts of GMI, they do not all have to be completed, or be completed in a specific order. A skilled occupational or physical therapist can help you learn the steps of GMI that will be most helpful to you to help reduce your pain and increase function.

If you have been experiencing pain for a long period of time, graded motor imagery may help you reduce your pain levels and improve your ability to do the things you want to do. Our physical and occupational therapists have experience working with individuals with pain and implementing graded motor imagery techniques. 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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