Recognising neuroplasticity in musculoskeletal rehabilitation: a basis for greater collaboration between musculoskeletal and neurological physiotherapists

Man Ther. 2014 Dec;19(6):614-7. doi: 10.1016/j.math.2014.01.006. Epub 2014 Jan 25.


Evidence is emerging for central nervous system (CNS) changes in the presence of musculoskeletal dysfunction and pain. Motor control exercises, and potentially manual therapy, can induce changes in the CNS, yet the focus in musculoskeletal physiotherapy practice is conventionally on movement impairments with less consideration of intervention-induced neuroplastic changes. Studies in healthy individuals and those with neurological dysfunction provide examples of strategies that may also be used to enhance neuroplasticity during the rehabilitation of individuals with musculoskeletal dysfunction, improving the effectiveness of interventions. In this paper, the evidence for neuroplastic changes in patients with musculoskeletal conditions is discussed. The authors compare and contrast neurological and musculoskeletal physiotherapy clinical paradigms in the context of the motor learning principles of experience-dependent plasticity: part and whole practice, repetition, task-specificity and feedback that induces an external focus of attention in the learner. It is proposed that increased collaboration between neurological and musculoskeletal physiotherapists and researchers will facilitate new discoveries on the neurophysiological mechanisms underpinning sensorimotor changes in patients with musculoskeletal dysfunction. This may lead to greater integration of strategies to enhance neuroplasticity in patients treated in musculoskeletal physiotherapy practice.

Keywords: Motor learning; Neuroplasticity; Rehabilitation.

MeSH terms

  • Central Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / rehabilitation*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Physical Therapists*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*