Deficits in proprioception and postural control are common in patients with different musculoskeletal pain syndromes. It has been proposed that pain can negatively affect proprioception and postural control at a peripheral level, however research is limited to animal studies. Human studies have shown that it is more likely, that the link between pain and proprioceptive deficits, lies within changes in the central nervous system where noxious and non-noxious stimuli may overlap. In clinical studies, causality cannot be determined due to other factors which could confound the assessment such as pathophysiological features of the underlying musculoskeletal disorder and different psycho-social influences especially in patients with chronic pain. On the other hand, experimentally induced pain in healthy participants is able to control most of these confounding factors and perhaps offers an assessment of the effects of pain on proprioception and postural control. The aim of this paper is to critically appraise the literature related to the effect of experimentally induced pain on proprioception and postural control. Results from these studies are discussed and limitations are highlighted for future research. A search of databases (Medline, Scopus, PubMed) was conducted as well as reference check from relevant articles published since 2000. Fifteen studies which explored the effect of experimentally induced pain on postural control and ten studies which explored the effect of experimentally induced pain on proprioception were included. We found that in the majority of the studies, postural control was negatively affected by experimentally induced pain. Results for proprioception were mixed depending on the body region and the way the painful stimuli were delivered. Kinesthesia was negatively affected in two studies, while in one study kinesthesia was enhanced. Joint position sense was not affected in four out of five studies. Finally, force sense was affected in three out of four studies. From a clinical point of view, findings from the available literature suggest that experimentally induced pain impairs postural control and could potentially increases the risk for falls in patients. Interventions aiming to reduce pain in these patients could lead to preservation or improvement of their balance. On the other hand, the same conclusion cannot be drawn for the effect of experimentally induced pain on kinesthesia and joint position sense due to the limited number of studies showing such an effect.
- anticipatory postural adjustments
- experimentally induced pain
- force sense
- joint position sense
- postural control