Clinically, arthrogenic muscle inhibition (AMI) has a negative impact on functional recovery in musculoskeletal disorders. One possible technique to relieve AMI is motor imagery, which is widely used in neurological rehabilitation to enhance motor neuron excitability. The purpose of this study was to verify the efficacy of visually-assisted motor imagery against AMI using a human experimental pain model.
Ten healthy volunteers were included. Experimental ankle pain was induced by hypertonic saline infusion into unilateral Kager’s fat pad. Isotonic saline was used as control. Subjects were instructed to imagine while watching a movie in which repetitive motion of their own ankle or fingers was shown. H-reflex normalized by the motor response (H/M ratio) on soleus muscle, maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) force of ankle flexion, and contractile activities of the calf muscles during MVC were recorded at baseline, pre-intervention, post-intervention, and 10 minutes after the pain had subsided.
Hypertonic saline produced continuous and constant peri-ankle pain (VAS peak [median]= 6.7 [2.1–8.4] cm) compared to isotonic saline (0 [0–0.8] cm). In response to pain, there were significant decreases in the H/M ratio, MVC and contractile activities (P<0.01), all of which were successfully reversed after the ankle motion imagery. In contrast, no significant changes were observed with the finger motion imagery.