Sunday, February 21, 2021

Many Physiotherapists Cannot Prescribe Exercise?

Teaching Ronald Susilo how to ride

I definitely don't agree with the following research (Barton et al, 2021) which concluded that physiotherapists cannot prescribe physical activity and exercise well for people with muscle and joint pain/ problems. Let me explain further.

I was asked to go to court last year to be questioned by the lawyer of the insurer (for the truck driver) for my accident in 2013. Yes, after waiting for almost 7 years, and numerous adjournments by the other party, the hearing was finally scheduled. 

Their lawyer questioned why I needed physiotherapy after my accident and he added that "isn't physiotherapy just doing some exercises". If so then I would not need to attend any more sessions and just do the exercises at home and the insurer would not have to pay anymore.

I explained that he (and perhaps the general public) may think when you see a physiotherapist, all the physiotherapist does is to teach you strengthening exercises for your pain or condition. But teaching strengthening exercises isn't the only thing physiotherapists do. At least not at our clinics anyway. 

But physiotherapists in Singapore can definitely teach exercises, especially in the hospital setting. That's what my patients tell me anyway.

Back to the study. 1,352 physiotherapists from 56 countries were surveyed. Most agreed that their job requires exercise prescription of aerobic exercise (75%) and resistancestrength training (89%) to patients with muscle and joint pain/ problems. 

38 to 50 percent of the physiotherapists reported that they were not confident and had no training/ skills to prescribe aerobic exercise and resistancestrength training (50 to 67%). Only 11% were able to give the correct guidelines for aerobic exercise and resistancestrength training (21%).

62 to 79 percent  felt that their packed schedule (seeing too many patients), access to equipment/ space and lack of opportunity to attend professional development affected their ability to prescribe guidelines for effective exercise. 

The authors concluded that many physiotherapists lack training and knowledge to give advice for physical activity, and to prescribe resistancestrength training and aerobic exercise to people with muscle and joint pain.

The general public (and the lawyer that quizzed me) thinks that all a physiotherapist does is teach exercise for treatment. Is that what you think?


Barton CJ, King MG, Dascombe G et al (2021). Many Physiotherapists Lack Preparedness To Prescribe Physical Activity and Exercise To People With Musculoskeletal Pain: A Multi-national Survey. Phy Therapy in Sport. DOI: 10.16/j.ptsp.2021.02.002.

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