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J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2015 Mar;45(3):198-206. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2015.5390. Epub 2015 Jan 27.

An investigation of how university sports team athletic therapists and physical therapists experience ethical issues.

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Action Sport Physio, Westmount, Quebec, Canada.



Qualitative study using interpretive description methodology.


The purpose of this study was to better understand how ethical issues are experienced by university sports team athletic therapists and physical therapists.


In clinical practice, sports teams are associated with a range of ethical issues. Issues commonly reported in the literature include confidentiality, return-to-play decisions, conflicts of interest, advertising, doping, and use of local anesthetic. To date, there has been limited examination of how athletic therapists and physical therapists involved with sports teams experience these ethical issues, and limited exploration of how these ethical issues, when encountered, are shaped by therapists' professional roles and responsibilities.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 11 athletic or physical therapists working with sports teams in 5 Canadian provinces. The data were analyzed inductively, using a recursive approach and constant comparative techniques.


Four key themes were developed relating to the participants' experiences of ethical issues: establishing and maintaining professional boundaries, striving for respectful and effective collaboration, seeking answers to ethical concerns, and living with the repercussions of challenging decisions.


While many ethical issues reported by participants resemble those faced by sports medicine physicians, they are experienced in distinctive ways, due to differences in professional roles and identities. Issues concerning professional boundaries were also more prominent for the study participants than the literature has reported them to be for sports medicine physicians. Effective communication and enhanced collaboration appear to be key elements in managing these ethical challenges.


athletes; ethics; professionalism; return to play; sports medicine

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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