The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) of the World Health Organization was developed as a common framework to understand health and to describe the impact of health condition on functioning. The purpose of this paper is to summarize the literature on the use of the ICF in physical therapy practice and research. The authors performed a scoping-narrative review and searched for relevant English language articles from 2001 to 2012 in multiple databases that included MEDLINE, PsycINFO, PubMed and Physiotherapy Evidence Database. Our keywords for the search consisted of [‘physical therapy’ OR ‘physiotherapy’] AND [‘ICF’]. All types of articles were considered. They found 268 articles; out of which, 79 were reviewed. The years with most publications were 2011 (n = 16), 2008 (n = 15) and 2010 and 2012 (both with n = 13). Publications mostly came from the United States with 27% of the articles. The journal Physical Therapy leads with almost a third of ICF-related physical therapy publications. The ICF has been mostly used in studies of musculoskeletal and neuromuscular conditions. We found a wide array of application of the ICF in research, clinical practice and teaching (classroom and clinical education). Emerging topics included using the ICF in resource allocation and prevention and wellness.
The use of the ICF in physical therapy practice and research is promising and continues to evolve. With recent developments in ICF-based measurement and integration in assessment tools for use in the clinics, research and teaching, the need to show the added value of using the ICF in practice and research remains.