The recovery of functional movements following injury to the central nervous system (CNS) is multifaceted and is accompanied by processes occurring in the injured and non-injured hemispheres of the brain or above/below a spinal cord lesion. The changes in the CNS are the consequence of functional and structural processes collectively termed neuroplasticity and these may occur spontaneously and/or be induced by movement practice. The neurophysiological mechanisms underlying such brain plasticity may take different forms in different types of injury, for example stroke vs. spinal cord injury (SCI). Recovery of movement can be enhanced by intensive, repetitive, variable, and rewarding motor practice. To this end, robots that enable or facilitate repetitive movements have been developed to assist recovery and rehabilitation. Here, we suggest that some elements of robot-mediated training such as assistance and perturbation may have the potential to enhance neuroplasticity. Together the elemental components for developing integrated robot-mediated training protocols may form part of a neurorehabilitation framework alongside those methods already employed by therapists. Robots could thus open up a wider choice of options for delivering movement rehabilitation grounded on the principles underpinning neuroplasticity in the human CNS.
Keywords: motor adaptation; motor cortex; motor learning; rehabilitation; spinal cord.