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Implicit and explicit motor imagery ability after SCI: Moving the elbow makes the difference.

Brain Research 2024 April 10
Cervical spinal cord injury (SCI) causes dramatic sensorimotor deficits that restrict both activity and participation. Restoring activity and participation requires extensive upper limb rehabilitation focusing elbow and wrist movements, which can include motor imagery. Yet, it remains unclear whether MI ability is impaired or spared after SCI. We investigated implicit and explicit MI ability in individuals with C6 or C7 SCI (SCIC6 and SCIC7 groups), as well as in aged- and gender-matched controls without SCI. Inspired by previous studies, implicit MI evaluations involved hand laterality judgments, hand orientation judgments (HOJT) and hand-object interaction judgments. Explicit MI evaluations involved mental chronometry assessments of physically possible or impossible movements due to the paralysis of upper limb muscles in both groups of participants with SCI. HOJT was the paradigm in which implicit MI ability profiles differed the most between groups, particularly in the SCIC6 group who had impaired elbow movements in the horizontal plane. MI ability profiles were similar between groups for explicit MI evaluations, but reflected task familiarity with higher durations in the case of unfamiliar movements in controls or attempt to perform movements which were no longer possible in persons with SCI. Present results, obtained from a homogeneous population of individuals with SCI, suggest that people with long-term SCI rely on embodied cognitive motor strategies, similar to controls. Differences found in behavioral response pattern during implicit MI mirrored the actual motor deficit, particularly during tasks that involved internal representations of affected body parts.

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