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Musculoskeletal Care. 2012 Sep;10(3):142-8. doi: 10.1002/msc.1011. Epub 2012 Apr 11.

Physical therapists' management of rheumatoid arthritis: results of a Dutch survey.

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Department of Rheumatology, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, The Netherlands.



For tailored implementation of evidence-based recommendations and guidelines on physical therapy in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), insight into current physical therapy practice is needed.


Two hundred and fifty general physical therapists and 211 specialized physical therapists with advanced arthritis training were sent a questionnaire to assess the frequency with which they applied a set of assessments (n = 10) and interventions (n = 7) included in a Dutch physical therapy guideline for RA. Differences between general and specialist physical therapists were analysed using Student's t-tests or chi-square tests where appropriate.


In total, 233 physical therapists (51%) responded. Of these, 96 (41%) had completed an additional arthritis course and were designated as specialist physical therapists. Among the physical therapists who returned the questionnaire, 69% (or more) reported that they 'always' assessed limitations in daily functioning, pain, morning stiffness, muscle strength, joint range of motion, joint stability, gait and limitations in leisure activities as part of their initial assessment, and 37% and 48% reported 'always' to assess aerobic capacity and limitations in work situations, respectively. Concerning interventions, exercise therapy and education were 'always' applied by 70% and 68% of the responders, respectively. Only a minority of responders reported 'always' applying ultrasound, electrical stimulation, heat therapy, massage and passive mobilizations (0%, 0%, 5%, 5% and 14%, respectively). Apart from aerobic capacity and work limitations, all other assessments were reported as 'always' applied by significantly (p < 0.05) more specialist physical therapists than general physical therapists. Regarding interventions, significantly more specialist physical therapists reported that they 'always' applied exercise therapy and education. Significantly fewer specialist physical therapists than in the general group reported 'always' using heat therapy, massage and mobilizations (p < 0.05).


The majority of physical therapists reported that they 'always' applied most of the assessments and interventions recommended in a Dutch physical therapy guideline for the management of RA. Areas for improvement include the assessment of aerobic capacity and work limitations. The observed differences between specialist and general physical therapists support the added value of advanced arthritis courses.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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