Clinical Specialization and Adherence to Evidence-Based Practice Guidelines for Low Back Pain Management: A Survey of US Physical Therapists

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Abstract

STUDY DESIGN:

Electronic cross-sectional survey.

BACKGROUND:

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) evidence-based practice guideline for low back pain (LBP) elaborated on strategies to manage nonspecific LBP in routine physical therapy practice. This guideline described LBP associated with mobility deficit, leg pain and a directional preference, coordination impairment (lumbar instability), and fear-avoidance behavior.

OBJECTIVES:

To assess American physical therapists' adherence to the clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) for LBP of the Orthopaedic Section of the APTA, and to compare adherence among physical therapists with different qualifications.

METHODS:

The investigators contacted 1861 members of the Orthopaedic Section of the APTA and 1000 members of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists (AAOMPT). Participants made treatment choices for 4 clinical vignettes: LBP with mobility deficit, coordination impairment, leg pain (directional preference), or fear-avoidance behavior. The investigator used logistic regression analyses to compare guideline adherence among physical therapists with the following qualifications: orthopaedic clinical specialists (PTOs), Fellows of the AAOMPT (PTFs), PTOs and PTFs (PTFOs), and physical therapists without clinical specialization but with a musculoskeletal interest (PTMSs).

RESULTS:

A total of 410 physical therapists completed all sections of the survey (142 PTOs, 110 PTFOs, 74 PTFs, and 84 PTMSs). Adherence to the APTA's CPG was highest for LBP associated with leg pain and a directional preference (72.2%), followed by LBP with mobility deficit (57.1%), LBP with coordination impairment (46.1%), and fear-avoidance behavior (29.5%). Physical therapists who were PTFOs adhered better to the CPG for LBP than did PTMSs for all 4 patient vignettes. Orthopaedic clinical specialists adhered better to the CPG for LBP for the vignettes of mobility deficit and of LBP with fear-avoidance behavior than did PTMSs.

CONCLUSION:

Physical therapists who were PTFOs and PTOs adhered better to the CPG than did PTMSs. Based on our preliminary results, further education on the CPG for LBP management is needed, particularly for managing LBP with coordination impairment and with fear-avoidance behavior.

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