Evidence based guidelines and current practice for physiotherapy management of knee osteoarthritis

Walsh, Nicola E. and Hurley, Michael V. (2009) Evidence based guidelines and current practice for physiotherapy management of knee osteoarthritis. Musculoskeletal Care, 7(1), pp. 45-56. ISSN (print) 1478-2189


OBJECTIVES: To document physiotherapy provision for patients with knee osteoarthritis (OA) in relation to the United Kingdom (UK) recently published National Institute of health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines for osteoarthritis. DESIGN: Questionnaire survey of chartered physiotherapists. METHOD: 300 postal questionnaires were distributed to Physiotherapy Departments requesting information regarding source of referrals, treatment aims, preferred methods of treatment and service delivery. RESULTS: Responses were received from 83 physiotherapists (28 %), predominantly working in the UK National Health Service. Approximately equal numbers of referrals came from primary and secondary care. Aims of physiotherapy management were to; encourage self-management; increase strength and range of movement; reduce pain; and improve function. To achieve these, exercise was utilised by 100% of practitioners, often supplemented with electrotherapeutic modalities (66%), manual therapy (64%) and acupuncture (60%). The majority of patients received individual treatment for a total contact time of 1-2 hours, whilst most group interventions lasted 5-6 hours. Approximately half (54%) of respondents reported using outcome measures to determine treatment efficacy. CONCLUSIONS: Although knee OA is usually managed in primary care, the similar number of referrals from primary and secondary care may suggest a deviation from evidence-based management guidelines. The guidelines' recommendations of exercise, patient education and self-management are observed by physiotherapists, but other modalities are often used despite poor or no research evidence supporting their efficacy. Whether any of these interventions are clinically beneficial is speculative as treatment outcomes were frequently under-evaluated.

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