Physical treatment of functional neurologic disorders

Handb Clin Neurol. 2016;139:555-569. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-801772-2.00045-X.


Physical interventions are widely considered an important part of treatment of functional neurologic disorders (FNDs). The evidence base for physical interventions has been limited to a collection of case series, but the recent publication of several large cohort studies and a randomized controlled trial have provided stronger evidence to support its use. While the evidence for efficacy appears to be promising, details on how this should be delivered remain limited, perhaps due to the dominance of psychologically focused etiologic models. A move towards understanding how the symptoms of FND are generated on a neurobiologic level has resulted in an expansion of pathophysiologic models providing a clearer rationale for physical treatment. In this context, the motor symptoms of FND can be considered as learnt patterns of movement, driven by attention and belief. Physical treatment aims to retrain movement by redirecting attention and addressing unhelpful illness beliefs and behaviors. The patient's problems should be considered in a broad biopsychosocial framework where symptom-predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors can be addressed within a multidisciplinary environment as a gold standard. Further research is required to refine interventions and create evidence-based treatment guidelines.

Keywords: conversion disorder; exercise; functional; physical therapy; physiotherapy; psychogenic; rehabilitation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Conversion Disorder / rehabilitation*
  • Humans
  • Nervous System Diseases / psychology*
  • Nervous System Diseases / rehabilitation*
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / rehabilitation*