, Volume 114, Issue 10, pp 1265-1278,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 20 Jun 2007

Motor imagery and action observation: cognitive tools for rehabilitation

Summary

Rehabilitation, for a large part may be seen as a learning process where old skills have to be re-acquired and new ones have to be learned on the basis of practice. Active exercising creates a flow of sensory (afferent) information. It is known that motor recovery and motor learning have many aspects in common. Both are largely based on response-produced sensory information. In the present article it is asked whether active physical exercise is always necessary for creating this sensory flow. Numerous studies have indicated that motor imagery may result in the same plastic changes in the motor system as actual physical practice. Motor imagery is the mental execution of a movement without any overt movement or without any peripheral (muscle) activation. It has been shown that motor imagery leads to the activation of the same brain areas as actual movement. The present article discusses the role that motor imagery may play in neurological rehabilitation. Furthermore, it will be discussed to what extent the observation of a movement performed by another subject may play a similar role in learning. It is concluded that, although the clinical evidence is still meager, the use of motor imagery in neurological rehabilitation may be defended on theoretical grounds and on the basis of the results of experimental studies with healthy subjects.