Purpose: Motor imagery can improve motor function and reduce pain. This is relevant to individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) in whom motor dysfunction and neuropathic pain are prevalent. However, therapy efficacy could be dependent on motor imagery ability, and a clear understanding of how motor imagery might be facilitated is currently lacking. Thus, the aim of the present study was to assess the immediate effects of interactive virtual feedback on motor imagery performance after SCI.
Methods: Nine individuals with a traumatic SCI participated in the experiment. Motor imagery tasks consisted of forward (i.e. simpler) and backward (i.e. more complex) walking while receiving interactive versus static virtual feedback. Motor imagery performance (vividness, effort and speed), neuropathic pain intensity and feasibility (immersion, distraction, side-effects) were assessed.
Results: During interactive feedback trials, motor imagery vividness and speed were significantly higher and effort was significantly lower as compared static feedback trials. No change in neuropathic pain was observed. Adverse effects were minor, and immersion was reported to be good.
Conclusions: This exploratory study showed that interactive virtual walking was feasible and facilitated motor imagery performance. The response to motor imagery interventions after SCI might be improved by using interactive virtual feedback.
Keywords: Spinal cord injury; chronic pain; gait; virtual reality therapy; visual feedback.