Utilising the perspectives of patients with lower-limb osteoarthritis on prescribed physical activity to develop a theoretically informed physiotherapy intervention

Matthew Willett, Carolyn Greig, Sally Fenton, David Rogers, Joan Duda, Alison Rushton

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BACKGROUND: Lower-limb osteoarthritis (OA) causes high levels of pain and disability. Physiotherapists are the primary healthcare provider of non-pharmacological treatments, and incorporate strategies to optimise physical activity (PA) to aid patients with lower-limb OA to moderate their clinical symptoms. However, patients with lower-limb OA have low adherence to PA recommendations both during treatment and after discharge. This study aimed to use knowledge of identified barriers and facilitators to physiotherapy prescribed PA (during treatment and post-discharge) to develop a theoretically informed intervention to optimise adherence to PA for patients with lower-limb OA during treatment and post-discharge.

METHODS: 1) A purposive sample of 13 patients with lower-limb OA participated in semi-structured interviews following physiotherapy treatment. Inductive analysis identified themes/subthemes reflecting barriers and facilitators to physiotherapist prescribed PA, which were organised deductively according to personal factors, treatment and post-discharge phases. 2) Themes/subthemes were mapped onto the theoretical domains framework (TDF). 3) Behaviour change techniques (BCTs) were coded from the key identified domains and a theoretically informed physiotherapy intervention addressing barriers and using facilitators, was developed.

RESULTS: Themes of patient confidence, mind-set, motivation, OA symptoms and PA experiences were primary personal factors that influenced PA adherence; with the TDF domain 'Beliefs about capabilities' most important to target. During treatment, the theme of routine formation was the major driver of personal factors; and primarily influenced by developing a positive physiotherapist-patient relationship. Post-discharge, physical factors, psychosocial factors and ongoing access to resources were important themes influencing PA maintenance. 'Environmental context and resources' and 'social influences' emerged as the key TDF domains to target during treatment and post-discharge. The proposed theoretically informed intervention included 26 BCTs delivered across conceptual phases of adoption, routine formation, and maintenance.

CONCLUSION: A theoretically informed physiotherapy intervention was proposed to optimise PA adherence in patients with lower-limb OA. The included BCTs primarily target patients' perceived beliefs about their capabilities, by developing a PA routine during treatment and facilitating appropriate psychosocial support and access to resources for PA maintenance post-discharge. The feasibility of delivering the intervention in clinical practice will now be evaluated.

Original languageEnglish
Article number155
JournalBMC Musculoskeletal Disorders
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study is being supported by the Musculoskeletal Association of Chartered Physiotherapists level 3 research award. The funding body had no role in the design of the study and collection, analysis, and interpretation of data and in writing the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Behaviour change
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Physiotherapy
  • Theoretical intervention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rheumatology
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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