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Effects of motor imagery training after chronic, complete spinal cord injury


Abnormalities in brain motor system function are present following spinal cord injury (SCI) and could reduce effectiveness of restorative interventions. Motor imagery training, which can improve motor behavior and modulate brain function, might address this concern but has not been examined in subjects with SCI. Ten subjects with SCI and complete tetra-/paraplegia plus ten healthy controls underwent assessment before and after 7 days of motor imagery training to tongue and to foot. Motor imagery training significantly improved the behavioral outcome measure, speed of movement, in non-paralyzed muscles. Training was also associated with increased fMRI activation in left putamen, an area associated with motor learning, during attempted right foot movement in both groups, despite foot movements being present in controls and absent in subjects with SCI. This fMRI change was absent in a second healthy control group serially imaged without training. In subjects with SCI, training exaggerated, rather than normalized, baseline derangement of left globus pallidus activation. The current study found that motor imagery training improves motor performance and alters brain function in subjects with complete SCI despite lack of voluntary motor control and peripheral feedback. These effects of motor imagery training on brain function have not been previously described in a neurologically impaired population, and were similar to those found in healthy controls. Motor imagery might be of value as one component of a restorative intervention.

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