Representational body maps are dynamically maintained in the brain and negatively influenced by neglect, decreased movement and pain. Graded motor imagery (GMI) utilizing various tactile and cognitive processes has shown efficacy in decreasing pain, disability and movement restrictions in musculoskeletal pain. Limited information is known about the cortical changes patients undergo during lumbar surgery (LS), let alone the therapeutic effect of GMI for LS. A 56-year-old patient underwent LS for low back pain, leg pain and progressive neurological deficit. Twenty-four hours prior to and 48 h after LS various psychometric, physical movement and tactile acuity measurements were recorded. Apart from predictable postoperative increases in pain, fear-avoidance, disability and movement-restrictions, pressure pain thresholds (PPT), two-point discrimination (TPD) and tactile acuity was greatly reduced. The patient underwent six physiotherapy (PT) treatments receiving a GMI program aimed at restoring the PPT, TPD and tactile acuity. The results revealed that GMI techniques applied to a patient immediately after LS caused marked improvements in movement (flexion average improvement/session 3.3 cm; straight leg raise average 8.3°/session) and an immediate hypoalgesic effect.
GMI may provide PT with a non-threatening therapeutic treatment for the acute LS patient and establish a new role for PT in acute LS patients.