The aim of the present study was to explore the pain modulation effects of motor imagery (MI) and action observation (AO) of specific neck therapeutic exercises both locally, in the cervical region, and remotely. A single-blind, placebo clinical trial was designed. A total of 30 patients with chronic neck pain (CNP) were randomly assigned to an AO group, MI group, or placebo observation (PO) group. Pain pressure thresholds (PPTs) of C2/C3, trapezius muscles, and epicondyle were the main outcome variables. Secondary outcomes included heart rate measurement. Statistically significant differences were observed in PPTs of the cervical region in the AO and MI groups between the preintervention and first postintervention assessment. Significant differences were found in the AO group in the epicondyle between the preintervention, first and second post-intervention assessments. Regarding heart rate response, differences were found in the AO and MI groups between the preintervention and average intervention measurements. AO and MI induce immediate pain modulation in the cervical region and AO also induces remote hypoalgesia. OA appears to lead to greater pain modulation as well as a greater heart rate response, however, both should be clinically considered in patients with CNP.
Keywords: action observation; chronic neck pain; motor imagery; musculoskeletal pain; pain modulation; pain neuroscience.