Implementing psychosocial factors in physical therapy treatment for patients with musculoskeletal pain in primary care

University dissertation from Örebro universitet

Abstract: This dissertation focuses on 2 parts: 1) Whether evidence-based guidelines are recognized and integrated into clinical practice in primary care and 2) Whether a university course aimed at teaching physical therapists to identify and address evidence-based psychosocial factors in primary care might change practice behaviour and patient outcome. To this end practising clinicians were surveyed and a course for physical therapists was developed.Concerning the first part, we showed that a relatively large proportion of clinicians in primary care were unfamiliar with the content of evidence-based guidelines and/or with the concept of “Red flags”. Yet, concerning the self-reported practice behaviour, the majority indicated they followed the key points in the guidelines. To enhance the impact of guidelines, interventions or tactics for teaching and implementing guidelines should include interactive education,discussion, feedback, and reminders which in research have shown to enhance knowledge,skills and change behaviour. Furthermore, the clinical applicability of the guidelines needs to be further developed. We could also show that psychosocial factors were integrated up to a certain point and that physical therapists in primary care were well aware of the importance of psychosocial risk factors, but it seemed physical therapists lack specificity about which factors are important. Physical therapists may have heard about risk factors but probably did not have a clear model or structure about how these factors work.Concerning the second part, the results showed that we, by means of a university course, managed to change attitudes and beliefs, increase knowledge, skills and competencies towards a more biopsychosocial standpoint. But despite these changes, the results did not show a behavioural change on behalf of the physical therapists or a better outcome for patients at risk of longterm pain and disability. Several possible explanations for this are discussed. First, the content of the course should be changed so it focuses more on behavioural change on behalf of the physical therapists. This would facilitate implementation of new behaviour in clinical practice and increase the likelihood that the new behaviour is maintained and thereby the possibility of improved patient outcome. Second, treating patients at risk for long-term pain and disability may also be too difficult for a single physical therapist in a clinical setting. This would imply large changes in the way patients are directed through the health care system compared to now. The main tasks of the physical therapists in primary care would then be to select patients at risk for long-term pain and disability. They would then treat the patients not at risk and refer the patients at risk for long-term pain and disability to more suitable treatment, for example CBT treatment delivered by a psychologist or multimodal treatment delivered by a team of experts.Since risk patients experience most suffering and are the most costly for the health care system, it is important they get the appropriate treatment at the earliest possible opportunity.In summary, this dissertation shows that integrating psychosocial factors in physical therapy is not an easy task.

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