Physical Activity Promotion Attitudes and Practices Among Outpatient Physical Therapists: Results of a National Survey

J Geriatr Phys Ther. 2021;44(1):25-34. doi: 10.1519/JPT.0000000000000289.


Background and purpose: Physical activity (PA) promotion delivered by physical therapists is effective. However, little is known about how much PA promotion is integrated into outpatient US physical therapist practice. The purpose of this study was to determine the current PA promotion practices and factors that influence those practices among outpatient US physical therapists.

Methods: A sample of outpatient US physical therapists from the Academy of Orthopaedic Physical Therapy and American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Geriatrics completed an adaptive online survey that included questions related to PA promotion practices and factors that influence those practices. We dichotomized levels of PA promotion as regular and irregular. Multivariable logistic regression was used to determine what factors predicted regular PA promotion.

Results and discussion: A total of 522 individuals participated and 393 surveys were included in the analyses (75.3%). Most participants (58.5%) irregularly promoted PA and few reported always screening for patients' PA levels (12.7%). The strongest predictor of regularly promoting PA was screening for baseline PA (odds ratio = 5.07, 95% confidence interval = 2.23, 11.57). Physical therapists' own PA levels compared favorably to the US adult population and other health professionals and predicted PA promotion. Other factors related to capability, opportunity, and environment were predictors of PA promotion. Perceived lack of financial support from insurance companies, lack of support from clinical employers, and a perception of competing priorities were barriers to PA promotion. Despite being a public health priority, the majority of physical therapists surveyed infrequently screen for baseline PA and irregularly promote PA. Perceived financial barriers, lack of organizational support, and prioritizing other patient problems hinder PA promotion in the outpatient setting.

Conclusion: Despite guidance from national and international governing bodies, US outpatient physical therapists do not regularly promote PA to patients and perceive financial constraints and competing priorities as key barriers. Professional and patient stakeholders should be involved in designing pathways to improve PA promotion practices among outpatient US physical therapists.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Outpatients
  • Physical Therapists*