Virtual Body in the management of ongoing/persistent pain otherwise known as Graded Motor Imagery GMI
Written by Jacqui Self
(Senior Occupational Therapist).
6th July, 2020.
If you have developed an aversion to certain everyday activities due to ongoing pain e.g. bending down, picking up a child, walking or sitting for long periods it is most likely due to the fact that the brain has retained the information previously experienced in the acute phase of the injury and remembers these activities as being “dangerous” and remains in a hyper protective state. The brain then sends the same protective messages to prevent you from engaging in the said tasks. This leads to a cycle of fear and avoidance and reinforcing the “danger” message.
In recent years elite athletes have been using their imagination to improve their performance without actually physically engaging in the said activity. This is based on the knowledge of neuroscience and has had great success.
There is some evidence to show that the brain’s activation is greater when visualising yourself performing a movement than if you are actually performing. (Graded Motor Imagery G. Lorimer Moseley; David S.Butler; Timoth B.Beames Ch3 pg 71)
In the same way you can enhance performance of a skill using visualisation , the brain can learn to be less over protective and enable engagement in those everyday activities that we want and need to perform.
Graded Motor Imagery is an evidence based, graded brain training programme which accesses the Virtual body in the brain.
How it works: The Sensory motor cortex in our brain, has virtual map of your body and there are hundreds & thousands of brain cells/neurones that represent every part of your body (see image below)
NB: Neurones are replaced every 3-4 days throughout the life span and so there is always room for the brain to learn new tricks!!!
Using visualisation to see your self performing a certain movement pain free/symptom free then stimulates the neurones on that part of the virtual map to be activated and retain the more positive experience. This is retraining the brain to complete the action safely and is replacing the old map with a new one. Over time this will translate into actual performance and engagement in the chosen activity.
Of course this doesn’t happen overnight!! It requires practice, commitment and above all patience. For an easy to watch and understand video go to this website: gradedmotorimagery.com
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