With Motor imagery (MI), movements are mentally rehearsed without overt actions; this procedure has been adopted in motor rehabilitation, primarily in brain-damaged patients. Here we rather tested the clinical potentials of MI in purely orthopaedic patients who, by definition, should maximally benefit of mental exercises because of their intact brain. To this end we studied the recovery of gait after total knee arthroplasty and evaluated whether MI combined with physiotherapy could speed up the recovery of gait and even limit the occurrence of future falls. We studied 48 patients at the beginning and by the end of the post-surgery residential rehabilitation program: half of them completed a specific MI training supported by computerized visual stimulation (experimental group); the other half performed a non-motoric cognitive training (control group). All patients also had standard physiotherapy. By the end of the rehabilitation, the experimental group showed a better recovery of gait and active knee flexion-extension movements, and less pain. The number of falls or near falls after surgery was significantly lower in the experimental group. These results show that MI can improve gait abilities and limit future falls in orthopaedic patients, without collateral risks and with limited costs.
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