Results yielded from a new study conducted by Georgia State University indicates that a person recovering from a recent stroke should undergo both physical therapy and mental practice (also known as motor imagery) in order to gain the most optimal results. Motor imagery is a mental rehearsal of a motor action without actually performing the action (while physical therapy involves using repetitive, task-oriented training on the body part that is impaired). The combination of physical therapy and motor imagery should be used to improve motor movement, balance, and coordination in individuals that have suffered a recent stroke.
For participants, the researchers employed the use of 13 older stroke survivors in addition to 17 healthy control participants. The participants from the stroke group were placed in two groups: 1) motor imagery only; or, 2) motor imagery and physical therapy. The treatment was given within 14 to 51 days of the participants’ stroke; each participant experienced 60 total hours of rehabilitation. To assess the effectiveness of each treatment, the participants in the stroke group and the control group underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans before and after each treatment.
During normal brain functioning, there are multiple cortical areas of the brain that communicate with each other; however, following a stroke, these interactions are disrupted. After a stroke, there is damage to brain cells; it can take a long time for the neurons to grow back, if they grow back at all. Dr. Butler, a faculty member at Georgia State University, stated that when attempting physical therapy many stroke patients are unable to move at all. Therefore the treatment teams often incorporate motor imagery, as if the stroke patients simply think about moving that area of the body, it helps keep the neurons active near the area that died in the brain. Results obtained from this study indicated that the individuals in the stroke group that participated in both physical therapy and motor imagery had a significant increase in the flow of information between several brain regions.
It’s interesting that simply thinking about something can produce such beneficial and even tangible outcomes. What other areas of health can this notion be applied towards?
Faisal Roberts, M.A.
WKPIC Doctoral Intern
Pedersen, T. (2015). Both Physical Therapy, Mental Practice Important in Stroke Recovery. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 13, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2015/04/13/both-physical-therapy-mental-practice-important-in-stroke-recovery/83468.html