Work-related musculoskeletal disorders among physical therapists: A systematic review

J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2016 Aug 10;29(3):417-28. doi: 10.3233/BMR-150649.


Physical therapists (PTs) perform demanding tasks that can lead to work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD), but the rates and characteristics of WMSD among PTs are not well known. The objective of this systematic review of the literature was to integrate the information published on the prevalence, types, and risks for WMSD among PTs. Four databases were searched using combinations and synonyms for WMSD, discomfort, symptoms, and PTs. Two reviewers independently searched and screened peer-reviewed articles published in English evaluating WMSD in PTs; agreement between reviewers was evaluated. From 867 unduplicated articles, 32 were eligible and included. Up to 90% of PTs have WMSD during their careers; 50% experience WMSD within 5 years of practice. Low back was the body part most commonly affected. Female PTs and PTs working in hospitals have higher prevalence of WMSD. WMSD are associated with PTs' age, gender, specialty and job tasks. Performing manual therapy, lifting and transferring patients are tasks commonly associated with PTs' developing WMSD. The body parts affected differed by specialty and tasks. The findings presented in this review are useful to inform future research, quality improvement, and educational programs to reduce the rates of WMSD among PTs.

Keywords: Musculoskeletal disorders; occupational injuries; physical therapists.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Humans
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Physical Therapists*
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Factors