Missing The Forest For The Trees: A Lack Of Upper Extremity Physical Performance Testing In Sports Physical Therapy.
Gauthier ML, Unverzagt CA, Mendonça LDM, Seitz AL.
Background: Despite shoulder and elbow injuries being common in athletics, return to sport and reinjury rates are less than ideal. These outcomes may be driven by the absence of evidence-informed testing to determine an athlete’s readiness for sport.
Purpose: The purpose of this study was to explore the reported frequency of physical performance testing for return to sport readiness by physical therapists treating athletes with upper extremity injuries and to identify potential barriers that may limit use of these tests. A secondary aim was to compare practice patterns of clinicians with sports physical therapy specialty certification to clinicians without.
Study Design: International, cross-sectional survey using purposive sampling.
Methods: A survey instrument was created to assess the frequency of use of physical performance tests by physical therapists treating athletes with upper extremity injuries, as well as the barriers limiting the use of these tests. The 19-question online survey was distributed via email and Twitter among sports physical therapists. Independent t-tests and Chi Square analyses were conducted to determine differences in practice patterns between physical therapists with and without specialization and the frequency of potential barriers that may limit the use of these tests.
Results: Four hundred ninety-eight participants met study eligibility and completed the survey. Fewer than half of participants reported using any physical performance test in making return to sport decisions for athletes with upper extremity injuries. The greatest barriers to the use of physical performance tests were a lack of equipment followed by lack of understanding of the literature, lack of time, and lack of supporting literature. Sports specialist clinicians were significantly more likely (p<0.001) to use physical performance tests than non-specialist clinicians (71.6% versus 36.3%).
Conclusion: In this survey of physical therapists (n=498), the majority admit to not using physical performance tests when making return to sport decisions for athletes with upper extremity injuries regardless of specialization.
Physical therapists have an opportunity to improve the utilization physical performance testing in the upper extremity athlete in hopes of reducing injury recurrence and enhance return to sport rates.
Level of Evidence: Level 3b