Motor imagery (M.I.) training has been widely used to enhance motor behavior. To characterize the neural foundations of its rehabilitative effects in a pathological population we studied twenty-two patients with rhizarthrosis, a chronic degenerative articular disease in which thumb-to-fingers opposition becomes difficult due to increasing pain while the brain is typically intact. Before and after surgery, patients underwent behavioral tests to measure pain and motor performance and fMRI measurements of brain motor activity. After surgery, the affected hand was immobilized, and patients were enrolled in a M.I. training. The sample was split in those who had a high compliance with the program of scheduled exercises (T+, average compliance: 84%) and those with low compliance (T−, average compliance: 20%; cut-off point: 55%). We found that more intense M.I. training counteracts the adverse effects of immobilization reducing pain and expediting motor recovery. fMRI data from the post-surgery session showed that T+ patients had decreased brain activation in the premotor cortex and the supplementary motor area (SMA); meanwhile, for the same movements, the T− patients exhibited a reversed pattern. Furthermore, in the post-surgery fMRI session, pain intensity was correlated with activity in the ipsilateral precentral gyrus and, notably, in the insular cortex, a node of the pain matrix. These findings indicate that the motor simulations of M.I. have a facilitative effect on recovery by cortical plasticity mechanisms and optimization of motor control, thereby establishing the rationale for incorporating the systematic use of M.I. into standard rehabilitation for the management of post-immobilization syndromes characteristic of hand surgery.
- Brain plasticity
- Mental imagery training
- Trapeziometacarpal joint osteoarthritis
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
- Clinical Neurology
- Cognitive Neuroscience