Aberrant movement patterns and postures are obvious to clinicians managing patients with musculoskeletal pain. However, some changes in motor function that occur in the presence of pain are less apparent. Clinical and basic science investigations have provided evidence of the effects of nociception on aspects of motor function. Both increases and decreases in muscle activity have been shown, along with alterations in neuronal control mechanisms, proprioception, and local muscle morphology. Various models have been proposed in an attempt to provide an explanation for some of these changes. These include the vicious cycle and pain adaptation models. Recent research has seen the emergence of a new model in which patterns of muscle activation and recruitment are altered in the presence of pain (neuromuscular activation model). These changes seem to particularly affect the ability of muscles to perform synergistic functions related to maintaining joint stability and control. These changes are believed to persist into the period of chronicity. This review shows current knowledge of the effect of musculoskeletal pain on the motor system and presents the various proposed models, in addition to other shown effects not covered by these models. The relevance of these models to both acute and chronic pain is considered. It is apparent that people experiencing musculoskeletal pain exhibit complex motor responses that may show some variation with the time course of the disorder.
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