Physiotherapy for functional (psychogenic) motor symptoms: a systematic review

J Psychosom Res. 2013 Aug;75(2):93-102. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2013.05.006. Epub 2013 Jun 12.


Objective: Functional (psychogenic) motor symptoms (FMS), also called motor conversion disorder or non-organic motor symptoms are a common cause of disability and distress among patients attending neurology and neurorehabilitation services. Patients with FMS are often referred for physiotherapy but it is not clear whether this is effective. Here we aim to systematically review the literature regarding physiotherapy interventions for patients with functional motor symptoms.

Methods: Systematic review of databases with reference search for period 1950 to September 2012.

Results: There was only one controlled intervention study with a historical control group and 28 case series or reports describing interventions. The total number of patients in all studies was 373. Physiotherapy most commonly occurred in the context of multidisciplinary treatment and involved a motor learning approach. Novel approaches included the use of distraction techniques and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine. Deceptive behavioural techniques have also been described. Most studies reported benefit from physical treatment, including some studies with long-term follow up.

Conclusions: Patients with FMS are commonly encountered in neurological practice and are often referred for physiotherapy. The existing data to guide physiotherapy treatment for FMS is of low quality and limited in scope. However, it suggests potential positive effects and provides a useful resource for developing and testing physiotherapy interventions in future studies.

Keywords: Conversion disorder; Functional; Physical therapy; Physiotherapy; Psychogenic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Conversion Disorder / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Treatment Outcome