Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A description of physical therapists' knowledge in managing musculoskeletal conditions

John D Childs1, Julie M Whitman2, Phillip S Sizer3*, Maria L Pugia4, Timothy W Flynn2 and Anthony Delitto5

Author Affiliations

1 US Army-Baylor University Doctoral Program in Physical Therapy, Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, TX, USA

2 Department of Physical Therapy, Regis University, Denver, CO, USA

3 Department of Physical Therapy, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX, USA

4 Department of Physical Therapy, Los Angeles Air Force Base, Los Angeles, CA, USA

5 Department of Physical Therapy, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2005, 6:32  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-6-32

Published: 17 June 2005



Physical therapists increasingly provide direct access services to patients with musculoskeletal conditions, and growing evidence supports the cost-effectiveness of this mode of healthcare delivery. However, further evidence is needed to determine if physical therapists have the requisite knowledge necessary to manage musculoskeletal conditions. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to describe physical therapists' knowledge in managing musculoskeletal conditions.


This study utilized a cross-sectional design in which 174 physical therapist students from randomly selected educational programs and 182 experienced physical therapists completed a standardized examination assessing knowledge in managing musculoskeletal conditions. This same examination has been previously been used to assess knowledge in musculoskeletal medicine among medical students, physician interns and residents, and across a variety of physician specialties.


Experienced physical therapists had higher levels of knowledge in managing musculoskeletal conditions than medical students, physician interns and residents, and all physician specialists except for orthopaedists. Physical therapist students enrolled in doctoral degree educational programs achieved significantly higher scores than their peers enrolled in master's degree programs. Furthermore, experienced physical therapists who were board-certified in orthopaedic or sports physical therapy achieved significantly higher scores and passing rates than their non board-certified colleagues.


The results of this study may have implications for health and public policy decisions regarding the suitability of utilizing physical therapists to provide direct access care for patients with musculoskeletal conditions.