Thursday, July 18th, 2019
Last modified on May 16th, 2023
Recovering from a stroke takes hard work, dedication and…imagination? While it might seem like a far-fetched statement, using only the mind to reclaim movement can be a reality for many stroke survivors.
Now, more than ever, modern medicine and rehabilitation appreciate the brain’s incredible resilience to trauma. Through a process described as “neuroplasticity,” the brain’s internal structure can transform in response to experiences, practice, and learning. When provided the right challenges and appropriate tools, thousands of survivors stand a good chance of recovering from trauma to their brain (e.g., stroke, motor vehicle accident).
This article highlights a potent and scientifically proven treatment called mental practice. Regular use of mental practice woven into an existing therapy routine is the leading recommendation for neurological recovery. Learn more about the brain’s plastic mechanisms, what happens during the rehearsal of movement in the mind, and how to perform mental practice using newly released SaeboMind Mental Practice Exercises. For more information and the SaeboMind User Manual, visit https://www.saebo.com/shop/saebomind/.
Mental practice (MP) is a training approach in which an individual repetitively rehearses a physical skill using only their mind. All movement, sensation, and scenery have the potential to be mentally practiced. Like common strategies known as “visualization” and “imagery,” mental practice triggers the brain’s motor, sensory, and perception centers just like when performing a physical task. This has been observed from a sensitive brain scan called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Since brain activity and blood flow are coupled, this scan shows the increased blood flow to areas of the brain. In fact, there is level 1a evidence (the highest level possible) that MP is useful for improving upper extremity motor function (Teasall, 2016). So, does MP really work?
Memorize this phrase and repeat it often: Mind drives movement.
These three words explain that biological changes are happening in the brain during and after the mental practice session. Those changes help plan and carry out future movement. The brain has a unique ability to rewire new neural pathways around damaged areas. Research theorizes two things with the use of MP: (1) dormant nerve pathways resurface, and the existing neural connections strengthen, and (2) new nerve pathways are created and become larger with continued use. What’s even more astounding is that over months of continued mental practice, one can observe permanent changes in the brain, and multiple areas of the brain uniting during one action. Use it, improve it.
For neuroplasticity to be improved, a stroke or brain injury survivor needs to participate in new experiences. This helps the learning process, whether someone is assisting the individual or not. Neural circuits degrade over time if not used. Lack of use leads to a loss of function, adaptation, and nonuse. Remember the saying, “Use it, or lose it?” This is an excellent example of how easy it is to lose one’s ability if you don’t use it.
Before swimming a race, legend Michael Phelps gets into the pool and rehearses a pre-race ritual that includes a form of MP and deep breathing. Outfitted in his parka, and listening to headphones, the 28-time Olympic medalist can almost always be found alone mentally practicing his strokes before he even enters the water. Why would he do this?
Decades of research shows that imagining step-by-step physical actions enhances one’s abilities and is beneficial when included with physical practice (Schuster et al., 2011). However, very few of us are athletes. Does this mean regular people can’t use mental practice?
No. The use of MP, relaxation, and imagery techniques are not limited to athletes alone. Performers, musicians, and public speakers often use MP to focus, rehearse, and gain confidence before performing. There is also research that shows that surgeons use MP to train for difficult surgeries, and astronauts use MP to adjust to being in outer space. Plus, there is excellent news about mental practice: What works for athletes and other healthy adults also works for someone that has had an injury to their brain and nervous system.
Mental practice deserves a top spot on the list of treatment approaches used in therapy. Research supports that MP reduces impairments and improves functional recovery when used in poststroke rehabilitation. It is especially useful when added to physical practice for upper-limb recovery. The following are a few benefits of mental practice, relaxation, and imagery techniques.
Not all people find it easy to imagine themselves doing a task, but the power of a focused mind should not be underestimated. Rehabilitation experts strongly recommend mental practice as an adjunct to intense skilled therapy. Interestingly, MP is not commonly used amongst neurorehabilitation therapists, though it has been shown to produce great results and increased brain mapping. The combination of encouragement and MP intervention can profoundly shape the recovery for an individual. Don’t delay. Start using it now!
Saebo, Inc. is pleased to offer SaeboMind Mental Practice Exercises, a collection of audio files designed explicitly for neurological recovery.
These recordings are offered at no cost to the public because of Saebo’s continued commitment to providing compassionate, evidence-based care for the individuals of the world. Access to the SaeboMind audio files is unlimited, with no purchase necessary. It is considered a viable intervention for motor rehabilitation because it is safe, cost-effective, and provides multiple, endless practice opportunities (Kho et al., 2014).
Engaging in SaeboMind Mental Practice Exercises is recommended for everyone that can actively listen and follow basic instructions. It is ideal to use between physical tasks or exercise. SaeboMind exercises can be used in a variety of settings requiring just the internet and a personal communication device. Consider the following suggestions for when and where to perform SaeboMind Exercises:
Mental practice is most often presented by listening to audio recordings that capture what it looks like and feels like to perform an activity. The listener follows along by imagining their body performing a task in a relaxed and self-reflective state of mind. This can be performed on the go or at home.
The SaeboMind catalog offers many familiar activities to choose from. Examples of a few upper extremity activities include handwriting, eating food, petting your animal and counting money. A few examples of lower extremity activities include walking, balancing, standing up and using stairs safely.
The total practice time for one audio file lasts 20-30 minutes total.
Using mental practice for rehabilitation is best done when the user understands the process. The Four Pillars of SaeboMind serve as a foundation of fundamental principles of motor learning through neuroplasticity.
The following four “pillars” affirm the 3 phases of the SaeboMind Mental Practice Exercises:
If time is limited, and you can’t use the SaeboMind recordings, it is still possible to engage in a brief MP session. First, an individual needs to choose a task to mentally practice. Then, the individual can imagine their own play-by-play recording, including the required motor sequences and sensory experiences of performing that task. A lot of people find it easier to use memory to develop this type of MP.
Having experience with the SaeboMind recordings will help in the creation of an inner dialogue. Self-guided talk of “seeing and feeling” the limb move through an action strengthens neural connections to critical areas of the brain. Regular use of this technique teaches individuals patience before performing any action. Calmly moving your limb helps an individual practice correct movements and aids in motor planning and execution. This technique becomes easier the more mental practice is performed.
The Saebo support team and expert clinicians care about the progress you are making with your mental practice. Let us know how SaeboMind Mental Practice Exercises have influenced and accelerated your recovery efforts. Tell us your story by sharing a testimonial on our website or contact your Saebo representative at (888) 284-5433.
If you want to see YOUR favorite activity made into a SaeboMind Exercise, let us know. Together, we can develop a comprehensive library of meaningful daily activities to meet everyone’s needs.
Now that SaeboMind offers mental practice in a convenient playlist to take your rehabilitation to the next level, there is No Plateau in Sight!
A special thank you to our SaeboMind Mental Practice Exercise consultants, Emily J. Morgan, MS, OTRL, CSRS, CBIS, RPSFC in NDT and Stephen Page, PhD, OTR/L, Neurorecovery Unlimited, LLC.
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