Utilization of motor imagery in upper limb rehabilitation: a systematic scoping review

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To determine how motor imagery is being delivered in upper limb rehabilitation to guide practice and research.

Data source:

MEDLINE, PubMed, CINAHL, EMBASE, PsychINFO databases were searched from 1987 to November 2014

Study selection:

English, adults, any clinical population or diagnosis, intervention for upper limb with an outcome measure used. All types of studies were included. Two authors independently selected studies for review using consensus.

Data extraction:

Seven motor imagery elements were extracted using a model implemented in sport research: PETTLEP model (Physical, Environment, Task, Timing, Learning, Emotion, and Perspective).


The search yielded 1107 articles with 1059 excluded leaving 48 articles for full review. A total of 38 articles involved individuals with stroke, five articles involved individuals with complex regional pain syndrome, and five articles for other conditions. Motor imagery elements most commonly described were physical, environment, task, and perspective. Elements less commonly described were timing, learning, and emotional aspects. There were significant differences between study populations (e.g. stroke and complex regional pain syndrome) and within populations on how motor imagery was delivered.


Many of the imagery elements reviewed are not being considered or reported on in the selected studies. How motor imagery is being delivered within and between populations is inconsistent, which may lead to difficulties in determining key elements of effectiveness.

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