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Phys Ther. 2012 May;92(5):666-79. doi: 10.2522/ptj.20110130. Epub 2012 Jan 6.

Clinical decision making in exercise prescription for fall prevention.

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Allied Health Clinical Research Unit, Southern Health, Kingston Centre, Cheltenham, Victoria, Australia.



Physical therapists often prescribe exercises for fall prevention. Understanding the factors influencing the clinical decision-making processes used by expert physical therapists working in specialist fall and balance clinics may assist other therapists in prescribing exercises for fall prevention with greater efficacy.


The objective of this study was to describe the factors influencing the clinical decision-making processes used by expert physical therapists to prescribe exercises for fall prevention.


This investigation was a qualitative study from a phenomenological perspective.


Semistructured telephone interviews were conducted with 24 expert physical therapists recruited primarily from the Victorian Falls Clinic Coalition. Interviews focused on 3 exercise prescription contexts: face-to-face individual therapy, group exercise programs, and home exercise programs. Interviews elicited information about therapist practices and the therapist, patient, and environmental factors influencing the clinical decision-making processes for the selection of exercise setting, type, dosage (intensity, quantity, rest periods, duration, and frequency), and progression. Strategies for promoting adherence and safety were also discussed. Data were analyzed with a framework approach by 3 investigators.


Participants described highly individualized exercise prescription approaches tailored to address key findings from physical assessments. Dissonance between prescribing a program that was theoretically correct on the basis of physiological considerations and prescribing one that a client would adhere to was evident. Safety considerations also were highly influential on the exercise type and setting prescribed. Terminology for describing the intensity of balance exercises was vague relative to terminology for describing the intensity of strength exercises.


Physical therapists with expertise in fall prevention adopted an individualized approach to exercise prescription that was based on physical assessment findings rather than "off-the-shelf" exercise programs commonly used in fall prevention research. Training programs for people who prescribe exercises for older adults at risk of falling should encompass these findings.

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