Moral distress in physical therapy practice

Physiother Theory Pract. 2010 Feb;26(2):69-78. doi: 10.3109/09593980903387878.


The purpose of this article is to discuss the theoretical concept of moral distress in the context of current physical therapy practice and ethics knowledge and differentiate it from emotional distress and burnout. Moral distress, largely discussed in nursing, is a theoretical concept that has the potential to elucidate the experiences of physical therapists delivering direct care to patients in complex health care situations and to contribute to physical therapy ethics knowledge and education. It focuses attention on the role of moral agent and the ethical dimensions of practice, offers a basis for dialogue among health professionals, and promotes analysis of the impact of the organizational environment on practice. The article concludes by suggesting how an understanding of the concept of moral distress might inform existing physical therapy ethical decision-making models and future research directions by which the experience of moral distress in physical therapy might be explored.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Burnout, Professional
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Decision Making
  • Ethics, Professional*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Communication
  • Morals*
  • Patient Care Team
  • Patient Rights
  • Physical Therapy Specialty / ethics*
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology*
  • Workplace / psychology