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Arch Physiother. 2015 Dec 2;5:14. doi: 10.1186/s40945-015-0013-x. eCollection 2015.

Action observation training to improve motor function recovery: a systematic review.

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Rehabilitation Department, San Raffaele Scientific Institute, Milan, Italy.
Neuroimaging Research Unit, INSPE, Division of Neuroscience, San Raffaele Scientific Institute, Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, Milan, Italy.
School of Physiotherapy, Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, Milan, Italy.


Following the discovery of Mirror Neuron System (MNS), Action Observation Training (AOT) has become an emerging rehabilitation tool to improve motor functions both in neurologic and orthopedic pathologies. The aim of this study is to present the state of the art on the use of AOT in experimental studies to improve motor function recovery in any disease. The research was performed in PubMed, PEDro, Embase, CINAHL and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (last search July 2015). Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that analyse efficacy of AOT for recovery of motor functions, regardless of the kind of disease, were retrieved. The validity of the included studies was assessed using the Cochrane Collaboration tool for evaluating risk of bias. Twenty RCTs were eligible. Four studies showed AOT efficacy in improving upper limb functional recovery in participants with chronic stroke, two studies in sub-acute ones and one in acute ones. Six articles suggested its effectiveness on walking performance in chronic stroke individuals, and three of them also suggested an efficacy in improving balance. The use of AOT was also recommended in individuals with Parkinson's disease to improve autonomy in activities of daily living, to improve spontaneous movement rate of self-paced finger movements and to reduce freezing of gait. Other two studies also indicated that AOT improves upper limb motor function in children with cerebral palsy. The last two studies, showed the efficacy of AOT in improving motor recovery in postsurgical orthopedic participants. Overall methodological quality of the considered studies was medium. The majority of analyzed studies suggest the efficacy of AOT, in addition to conventional physiotherapy, to improve motor function recovery in individuals with neurological and orthopedic diseases. However, the application of AOT is very heterogeneous in terms of diseases and outcome measures assessed, which makes it difficult to reach, to date, any conclusion that might influence clinical practice.


Action observation; Motor function recovery; Systematic review

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