Sensorimotor function and dizziness in neck pain: implications for assessment and management

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2009 May;39(5):364-77. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2009.2834.


Synopsis: The term sensorimotor describes all the afferent, efferent, and central integration and processing components involved in maintaining stability in the postural control system through intrinsic motor-control properties. The scope of this paper is to highlight the sensorimotor deficits that can arise from altered cervical afferent input. From a clinical orthopaedic perspective, the peripheral mechanoreceptors are the most important in functional joint stability; but in the cervical region they are also important for postural stability, as well as head and eye movement control. Consequently, conventional musculoskeletal intervention approaches may be sufficient only for patients with neck pain and minimal sensorimotor proprioceptive disturbances. Clinical experience and research indicates that significant sensorimotor cervical proprioceptive disturbances might be an important factor in the maintenance, recurrence, or progression of various symptoms in some patients with neck pain. In these cases, more specific and novel treatment methods are needed which progressively address neck position and movement sense, as well as cervicogenic oculomotor disturbances, postural stability, and cervicogenic dizziness. In this commentary we review the most relevant theoretical and practical knowledge on this matter and implications for clinical assessment and management, and we propose future directions for research.

Level of evidence: Level 5.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dizziness / etiology*
  • Dizziness / physiopathology
  • Dizziness / therapy
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Humans
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology
  • Motion Therapy, Continuous Passive
  • Musculoskeletal Manipulations
  • Neck Pain / etiology
  • Neck Pain / physiopathology*
  • Neck Pain / therapy
  • Oculomotor Nerve Diseases / physiopathology
  • Oculomotor Nerve Diseases / therapy
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Postural Balance / physiology
  • Proprioception / physiology
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth / physiology
  • Vision Disorders / physiopathology
  • Vision Disorders / therapy
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology
  • Whiplash Injuries / complications
  • Whiplash Injuries / physiopathology*