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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Biopsychosocial care and the physiotherapy encounter: physiotherapists’ accounts of back pain consultations

Tom Sanders*, Nadine E Foster, Annette Bishop and Bie Nio Ong

Author Affiliations

Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Centre, Primary Care Sciences, Keele University, Staffordshire, ST5 5BG, UK

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2013, 14:65  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-14-65

Published: 19 February 2013

Abstract

Background

The physiotherapy profession has undergone a paradigmatic shift in recent years, where a ‘biopsychosocial’ model of care has acquired popularity in response to mounting research evidence indicating better patient outcomes when used alongside traditional physiotherapy. However, research has not examined how this new dimension to traditional physical therapy is implemented within the therapeutic consultation.

Methods

The study aimed to investigate physiotherapists’ reported approaches to back pain care in the context of increasing pressure to address patients’ psychosocial concerns. A secondary analysis of semi-structured qualitative interviews with 12 UK physiotherapists was conducted. Respondents were sampled from a national survey, to include a broad mix of physiotherapists. Data were analysed thematically, adopting the constant comparative methodology.

Results

The combination of traditional physical therapy with a broader biopsychosocial approach presented significant challenges. Physiotherapists responded by attempting to navigate patients’ biopsychosocial problems through use of various strategies, such as setting boundaries around their clinical role and addressing lay health beliefs of patients through the provision of reassurance and lifestyle advice.

Conclusions

As psychosocial issues, alongside biomechanical factors, command a prominent place within the back pain consultation, physiotherapists may benefit from further specific training and mentoring support in identifying specific strategies for combining the best of traditional physiotherapy approaches with greater focus on patients’ beliefs, fears and social context.

Keywords:
Physiotherapy; Back pain; Biopsychosocial; Clinician-patient communication