The Effects of Cognitive Loading on Motor Behavior in Injured Individuals: A Systematic Review

Christopher J. Burcal, Alan R. Needle, Lisa Custer, Adam B. Rosen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Background: Research suggests that individuals with musculoskeletal injury may have difficulty negotiating physical tasks when they are combined with cognitive loads. Objective: Our objective was to conduct a systematic review to understand the effects of increased cognitive demand on movement patterns among individuals with musculoskeletal injuries. Methods: A comprehensive search of PubMed, MEDLINE, the Cumulative Index for Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), and SPORTDiscus was conducted to find research reports that included a population that had previously experienced an ankle, knee, or low back injury, included an uninjured control group, and assessed a dual-task paradigm. Results: Forty-five full-text research reports were assessed, of which 28 studies (six ankle injury, nine knee injury, and 13 low back pain studies) were included in the review. Included studies were assessed for methodological quality and the study design extracted for analysis including the participants, cognitive and physical tasks performed, as well as outcome measures (e.g., three-dimensional kinematics, center of pressure, etc.). All studies included were cross-sectional or case–control with methodological quality scores of 17.8 ± 2.2 out of a possible 22. Twenty-five of the 28 studies found changes in motor performance with dual-task conditions compared with single tasks. Furthermore, 54% of studies reported a significant group by task interaction effect, reporting at least one alteration in injured groups’ motor performance under dual-task conditions when compared with an uninjured group. Conclusion: The results of this systematic review indicate that motor performance is further impaired by placing a cognitive load on individuals in populations with musculoskeletal injury. More demanding tasks such as gait appear to be more affected in injured individuals than simple balance tasks. Future investigators may want to consider the difficulty of the tasks included as well as the impact of dual-task paradigms on rehabilitation programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1233-1253
Number of pages21
JournalSports Medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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