Neuromodulation for Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation: A Systematic Review

Francesca Buhagiar, Melinda Fitzgerald, Jason Bell, Fiona Allanson, Carmela Pestell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) results from an external force to the head or body causing neurophysiological changes within the brain. The number and severity of symptoms can vary, with some individuals experiencing rapid recovery, and others having persistent symptoms for months to years, impacting their quality of life. Current rehabilitation is limited in its ability to treat persistent symptoms and novel approaches are being sought to improve outcomes following mTBI. Neuromodulation is one technique used to encourage adaptive neuroplasticity within the brain. Objective: To systematically review the literature on the efficacy of neuromodulation in the mTBI population. Method: A systematic review was conducted using Medline, Embase, PsycINFO, PsycARTICLES and EBM Review. Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and the Synthesis Without Meta-analysis reporting guidelines were used and a narrative review of the selected studies was completed. Fourteen articles fulfilled the inclusion criteria which were published in English, investigating an adult sample and using a pre- and post-intervention design. Studies were excluded if they included non-mild TBI severities, pediatric or older adult populations. Results: Thirteen of fourteen studies reported positive reductions in mTBI symptomatology following neuromodulation. Specifically, improvements were reported in post-concussion symptom ratings, headaches, dizziness, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, general disability, cognition, return to work and quality of life. Normalization of working memory activation patterns, vestibular field potentials, hemodynamics of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and excessive delta wave activity were also seen. The studies reviewed had several methodological limitations including small, heterogenous samples and varied intervention protocols, limiting generalisability. Further research is required to understand the context in which neuromodulation may be beneficial. Conclusions: While these positive effects are observed, limitations included unequal representation of neuromodulation modalities in the literature, and lack of literature describing the efficacy of neuromodulation on the development or duration of persistent mTBI symptoms. Better clarity regarding neuromodulation efficacy could have a significant impact on mTBI patients, researchers, clinicians, and policy makers, facilitating a more productive post-mTBI population. Despite the limitations, the literature indicates that neuromodulation warrants further investigation. PROSPERO registration number: CRD42020161279.

Original languageEnglish
Article number598208
Number of pages13
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2020


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