Motor imagery and stroke rehabilitation: a critical discussion
Sjoerd de Vries and Theo Mulder
Motor disorders are a frequent consequence of stroke and much effort is invested in the re-acquisition of motor control. Although patients often regain some of their lost function after therapy, most remain chronically disabled. Functional recovery is achieved largely through reorganization processes in the damaged brain. Neural reorganization depends on the information provided by sensorimotor efferent-afferent feedback loops. It has, however, been shown that the motor system can also be activated ”offline” by imagining (motor imagery) or observing movements. The discovery of mirror neurones, which fire not only when an action is executed, but also when one observes another person performing the same action, also show that our action system can be used ”online” as well as offline. It is an intriguing question as to whether the information provided by motor imagery or motor observation can lead to functional recovery and plastic changes in patients after stroke. This article reviews the evidence for motor imagery or observation as novel methods in stroke rehabilitation.