Arthritis management in primary care - A study of physiotherapists' current practice, educational needs and adherence to national guidelines

Musculoskeletal Care. 2017 Dec;15(4):333-340. doi: 10.1002/msc.1176. Epub 2016 Dec 23.


Background: With an increasing number of patients with osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in primary care, our aim was to investigate arthritis-related practice in physiotherapy and to study adherence to evidence-based care.

Methods: Seventy physiotherapists (PTs) working in primary care were emailed a questionnaire to investigate current practice and the number of roles assumed by PTs, the degree of confidence, educational needs and adherence to national guidelines in managing patients with OA or RA. Interventions supported by national guidelines were compared with reports of treatment modalities in the questionnaire.

Results: Sixty-four (91%) PTs responded, and they reported a higher degree of confidence in assessment, treatment and education of patients with OA than for those with RA (p < 0.001). The total number of roles assumed by the PTs was higher in the management of OA than for RA (p < 0.001). PTs who assumed a greater number of roles also reported a stronger degree of confidence in assessing OA (p = 0.036). Those who assumed fewer roles also reported less confidence in RA treatment (p = 0.045). Recommendations in the guidelines were followed by the majority of PTs for eight of 11 treatment modalities in OA and for six of six in RA.

Conclusions: PTs reported a lower degree of confidence and the assumption of fewer roles in managing patients with RA compared with OA. There was good adherence to the national guidelines for almost all the treatment modalities listed. Even so, the results indicate a need for education, especially in chronic inflammatory arthritis care.

Keywords: evidence-based practice; osteoarthritis; physiotherapy; rheumatoid arthritis.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / therapy*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Guideline Adherence
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis / therapy*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physical Therapy Specialty / standards*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult