Advanced musculoskeletal physiotherapy practice: informing education curricula

Orla Fennelly, Francois Desmeubles, Cliona OSullivan, Nicola Heneghan, Caitriona Cunningham

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
381 Downloads (Pure)


Physiotherapists are operating at an advanced level of practice, usually on ad hoc basis with inhouse training, in response to the increasing burden of musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders. Discrepancies in role-specific education of advanced practice physiotherapists (APPs) creates challenges in ensuring a quality service, workforce mobility and formal recognition. This study reviewed existing MSK APP competency frameworks and education offerings, and explored physiotherapist learning needs with a view to informing international standardisation of MSK APP education curricula.

A scoping review of the literature and relevant university and regulatory websites identified APP competency frameworks and education curricula, which were verified by international experts. Content analysis, performed on the identified competencies and modules, produced a list of themes existing in MSK advanced practice internationally. A survey based on those themes identified the learning priorities of physiotherapists (n = 25) participating in an APP symposium in Ireland.

Six APP competency frameworks and eleven curricula from the UK, Canada and Australia were identified. Themes emerging, regarding MSK APP practice internationally, included both entry-level physiotherapy (e.g., Assessment and Diagnosis) and traditionally medically-controlled tasks (e.g., Injection Therapy), as well as Research, Leadership, Service Development, Professional-related Matters and Education. Participating physiotherapists more commonly prioritised competencies which would be deemed beyond entry level physiotherapy skills (i.e., Radiology versus Manual Therapy).

Despite variances in profiles of APPs both between and within countries, common themes emerged regarding their expected competencies and skills. This study provides the foundation for the adoption of internationally-recognised MSK APP competencies and education standards.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102174
Number of pages11
JournalMusculoskeletal Science and Practice
Early online date30 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • Advanced practice
  • Clinical competence
  • Competency-based education
  • Education
  • Musculoskeletal diseases
  • Physical therapy speciality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


Dive into the research topics of 'Advanced musculoskeletal physiotherapy practice: informing education curricula'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this