Cognitive Training Improves Disconnected Limbs’ Mental Representation and Peripersonal Space after Spinal Cord Injury


Valentina Moro, Michela Corbella, Silvio Ionta, Federico Ferrari and Michele Scandola


Paraplegia following spinal cord injury (SCI) affects the mental representation and peripersonal space of the paralysed body parts (i.e., lower limbs). Physical rehabilitation programs can improve these aspects, but the benefits are mostly partial and short-lasting. These limits could be due to the absence of trainings focused on SCI-induced cognitive deficits combined with traditional physical rehabilitation. To test this hypothesis, we assessed in 15 SCI-individuals the effects of adding cognitive recovery protocols (motor imagery–MI) to standard physical rehabilitation programs (Motor+MI training) on mental body representations and space representations, with respect to physical rehabilitation alone (control training). Each training comprised at least eight sessions administered over two weeks. The status of participants’ mental body representation and peripersonal space was assessed at three time points: before the training (T0), after the training (T1), and in a follow-up assessment one month later (T2). The Motor+MI training induced short-term recovery of peripersonal space that however did not persist at T2. Body representation showed a slower neuroplastic recovery at T2, without differences between Motor and the Motor+MI. These results show that body and space representations are plastic after lesions, and open new rehabilitation perspectives

IJERPH link (open access)