In sport, mental practice cannot be dissociated from physical practice in order to perform. However, this logic is not systematically applied in motor rehabilitation. Despite the growing number of studies on the cerebral consequences of musculoskeletal injuries, conventional rehabilitation programmes mainly target peripheral damage. However, there are a number of tools available to alleviate this problem, one of which is called motor imagery.
Motor imagery is a term to be distinguished from imagination and the imaginary world. It is in fact a concrete mental practice which consists of mentally executing a motor action without any movement actually being observable 1.
But mentally simulating a movement is much more complex than it seems at first sight. This complexity lies mainly in the multitude of imagery determinants. For example, mentally imagining a movement can be done on the basis of visual modalities; in this case, the individual imagines performing a movement sequence as an external observer or from the point of view of the performer.
On the other hand, the mental execution of a movement can be based on the kinaesthetic modality; this means imagining oneself feeling the sensations that the movement sequence provides. These types of imagery are well documented in the scientific literature, particularly with regard to their therapeutic prospects.
The neuro-functional importance of motor imagery
Motor imagery is increasingly documented scientifically in rehabilitation because of its neuro-functional equivalence with physical practice 2. This property makes motor imagery responsible for the stimulation of central pathways dedicated to motor control.
Therefore, this mental practice seems to be able to be used as a therapeutic tool.
Imaging for motor inhibition after musculoskeletal injuries
While motor imagery can be applied to a wide repertoire of injuries, we will focus on its application after musculoskeletal injury and more specifically on the consequences of associated motor inhibitions. Motor inhibition is well identified by its clinically visible and/or persistent consequences, known as "flessum". This voluntary inability to contract has been studied by many researchers who have revealed not only spinal and muscle mechanisms, but also brain changes. Recently, a study was able to show the beneficial effects of motor imagery on motor inhibition.
In particular, one of the benefits of imagery practice on this type of pathology was the reduction of pain. In addition to reinforcing the idea of complementing current therapeutic programmes with mental practice, this new study shows the promising future of motor imagery in the service of voluntary contraction abilities after musculoskeletal injuries. Although this concept appears to be new in the scientific literature, it is not new clinically.
Indeed, certified Allyane practitioners are already using mental practice combined with listening to low frequency sounds to re-educate motor inhibitions. Although the mechanisms of this association are not yet well understood, the Allyane method has shown encouraging empirical results in the improvement of functional motor skills, further emphasising the very strong potential of the use of motor imagery.
1. Jeannerod, M. The representing brain: Neural correlates of motor intention and imagery. Behav Brain Sci17, 187-202 (1994).
2. Jackson, P. L., Lafleur, M. F., Malouin, F., Richards, C. & Doyon, J. Potential role of mental practice using motor imagery in neurologic rehabilitation. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 82, 1133-1141 (2001).
3. Hardwick, R. M., Caspers, S., Eickhoff, S. B. & Swinnen, S. P. Neural correlates of action: comparing meta-analyses of imagery, observation, and execution. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 94, 31-44 (2018).
4. Oda, S. et al. Promising Effect of Visually-Assisted Motor Imagery Against Arthrogenic Muscle Inhibition - A Human Experimental Pain Study. J Pain Res 14, 285-295 (2021).