In Neurological Rehab, Imagining Movement Delivers the Goods

A Dutch literature review concludes that imagining movement creates the same flow of sensory information that leads to the reacquisition of motor skills.

In rehab, active exercising creates the flow of sensory information responsible for the learning or relearning of lost (or newly needed) motor skills. This review article addresses whether active physical exercise is always necessary for creating this sensory flow.

It points to numerous studies indicating that motor imagery can result in the same plastic changes in the motor system that actual physical practice provides. Motor imagery is the mental execution of a movement without any overt, corresponding movement or without any peripheral (muscle) activation.


Brain scans show that motor imagery leads to the activation of the same brain areas as actual movement. In addition, it suggests that it is possible that even observation of a movement performed by another can play a similar role in learning.

This review concludes that the use of motor imagery in neurological rehabilitation can be defended on theoretical grounds and on the basis of the results of a handful of experimental studies.

Citation: Mulder T. Motor imagery and action observation: cognitive tools for rehabilitation. Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. [email protected] Journal of Neural Transmission. 2007; 114 (10): pages 1265-78. Epub 2007 Jun 20.