The effects of mental practice in neurological rehabilitation; a systematic review and meta-analysis

Susy Braun*, Melanie Kleynen, Tessa van Heel, Nena Kruithof, Derick Wade, Anna Beurskens

*Corresponding author for this work

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To investigate the beneficial and adverse effects of a mental practice intervention on activities, cognition, and emotion in patients after stroke, patients with Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis. Methods: Electronic databases PubMed/Medline, PEDro, Science Direct, Cochrane Library, PsycINFO, Rehadat, Embase, and Picarta were searched until June 2012. Fourteen randomized controlled trials in stroke and two randomized controlled trials in Parkinson's disease were included, representing 491 patients (421 with stroke). No randomized controlled trials in multiple sclerosis were identified. The methodologic quality of the included trials was assessed with the Amsterdam-Maastricht-Consensus-List (AMCL). Information on study characteristics and outcomes was summarized and evidence for effects described. Data from individual studies in stroke with same outcome measures were pooled. Results: The included 16 randomized controlled trials were heterogeneous and methodologic quality varied. Ten trials reported significant effects in favor of mental practice in patients with stroke (n = 9) and Parkinson's disease (n = 1). In six studies mental practice had similar effects as therapy as usual (n = 5 in stroke and n = 1 in Parkinson's disease). Of six performed meta-analyses with identical measures in stroke studies only two showed significant effects of mental practice: short-term improvement of arm-hand-ability (ARAT: SMD 0.62; 95% CI: 0.05 to 1.19) and improvement of performance of activities (NRS: SMD 0.9; 95% CI: 0.04 to 1.77). Five studies found effects on cognition (e.g., effects on attention, plan actions in unfamiliar surroundings) and four reported observed side-effects, both positive (e.g., might increase motivation and arousal and reduce depression) and negative (e.g., diminished concentration, irritation). Conclusions: Mental practice might have positive effects on performance of activities in patients with neurological diseases, but this review reports less positive results than earlier published ones. Strengths and limitations of past studies are pointed out. Methodologic recommendations for future studies are given.
Original languageEnglish
Article number390
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2013


  • neurorehabilitation
  • mental practice
  • systematic review
  • meta-analysis

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