Researchers from the Departments of Neurology and Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of California, Irvine, examined the neural correlates of motor imagery when used in conjunction with movement of the paretic arm after stroke. Subjects were 7 patients in the chronic phase of stroke recovery (median (range): age: 58 years (37-73); time post-stroke: 9 months (4-42); upper extremity Fugl-Meyer motor score: 48 (36-64)).

Participants actively moved the paretic/right arm under two conditions while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. In the motor condition, pronation/supination movements were made in response to a visual cue. In the motor + imagery condition, the same movements were performed in response to a visual cue but the participants were instructed to imagine opening and closing a doorknob during performance of the movement.

For the motor condition, the anticipated motor network was activated and included left sensorimotor cortex and right cerebellum. For performance of the same movements during the motor + imagery condition, additional brain regions were significantly engaged, including the left inferior parietal lobule and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

The addition of motor imagery to movement may provide a practical, accessible way to modulate activity in both the planning and execution components of the motor network after stroke.

Citation: Dodakian L1, Campbell Stewart J, Cramer SC. Motor imagery during movement activates the brain more than movement alone after stroke: a pilot study. Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine. 2014 Oct;46 (9):pages 843-8.