Open Access: Physical therapists & importance of work participation in patients with Msk disorders: a focus group study

Musculoskeletal disorders are a major health problem resulting in negative effects on wellbeing and substantial costs to society. Work participation is associated with positive benefits for both mental and physical health. Potentially, generalist physical therapists (GPTs) can play an important role in reducing absenteeism, presenteeism and associated costs in patients with musculoskeletal disorders. However, work participation is often insufficiently addressed within generalist physical therapy practice (GPTP). Therefore, this study evaluates whether GPTs take work participation into account as a determining factor in patients with musculoskeletal disorders, and how this might be improved.

This qualitative study consisted of seven focus groups involving 30 participants: 21 GPTs and 9 occupational physical therapists (OPTs). Based on an interview guide, participants were asked how they integrate work participation within their practice, how they collaborate with other professionals, and how GPTs can improve integration of the patient’s work within their practice.

Although a patient’s work is important, GPTs take insufficient account of work participation as a determining factor in the treatment of patients with musculoskeletal disorders. GPTs often lack specific knowledge about work-related factors, and there is insufficient cooperation between OPTs and other occupational healthcare providers. The integration of work participation within GPTP, and the cooperation between GPTs and other occupational healthcare providers, show room for improvement.