Mental Practice Physiotherapy

What is Mental Practice and how does it work?

Mental practice is when you imagine yourself performing a task or movement. It has also been described as the practice of physical activity without any muscular movements. It is also called mental imagery or motor imagery.

When you do mental practice, there is activity in the same part of the brain as if you were actually performing the movement. If you continue with mental practice, over time it may help you learning a new skill.

This can be a useful tool in neurological physiotherapy, especially in conditions such as stroke and brain injuries where you may lose the ability to move some of your muscles. Several studies have shown that mental practice can make it easier for people who have had a stroke to do everyday tasks at home. Research has found that it works best together with regular physiotherapy, rather than on its own.

Mental Practice
In Mental Practice you imagine yourself
doing the movement but don’t actually do it.

What will it look like?

Because everybody is different, it will look different for everyone. Your physiotherapist will consider what you are having trouble doing and what you would like to be able to do, to come up with an individual program for you.

It may include:

  • Watching someone else do the movement (either in person or on video)
  • Instructions on what to focus on while you imagine yourself doing the movement
  • Having the physiotherapist move your limb and getting you to imagine you are moving it
  • Imaging yourself doing a task or past of a task

It is difficult?

Like everything, the more you do it the better you will get at it. Your therapist will spend time teaching how to do it. To get the most out of it we recommend:

  • Observe other people doing the task you are going to imagine.
  • Ask your therapist to point out things to notice about how they do it
  • Find a quiet place to minimise distractions
  • Do your best to focus
  • Organise a reminder to do it – someone could reminder you or you could set an alarm
  • And remember – practice, practice practice

Here at Sunshine Coast Neuro Rehab our physiotherapists work hard to understand you and your condition. We support people with neurological conditions to achieve more function, greater independence and quality of life. If you are interested in making an appointment, please make a booking by calling (07) 5448 115 or emailing

Kira Odling
Physiotherapist, APA Member


Braun S, Kleynen M, van Heel T, Kruithof N, Wade D, Beurskens A. The effects of mental practice in neurological rehabilitation; a systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2013;7:390.

Cha YJ, Yoo EY, Jung MY, Park SH, Park JH. Effects of functional task training with mental practice in stroke: a meta-analysis. NeuroRehabilitation, 2012;3:239-46.

López N., Pereira E, Centeno E, Miangolarra J(2019) Motor imagery as a complementary technique for functional recovery after stroke: a systematic review, Top Stroke Rehabil. 2019; 26:8:576-87. DOI: 10.1080/10749357.2019.1640000 Stroke Foundation (2022). Australian and New Zealand Clinical Guidelines for Stroke Management. Retrieved from: