Exploring physiotherapists' clinical definition and diagnosis of inflammatory conditions of the lactating breast in Australia: A mixed methods study

Emma Heron, Tanya Maselli, Adelle McArdle, Beatriz I.R. De Oliveira, Leanda McKenna

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Background: Differences in physiotherapy intervention practices for mastitis have been shown across Australian regions and facilities and it is unknown if this is associated with physiotherapists' definition and diagnosis of Inflammatory Conditions of the Lactating Breast (ICLB). The aims were to determine how Australian physiotherapists' define and diagnose ICLB and if there are regional or facility differences in their ICLB definition and diagnosis. Method: A cross-sectional mixed methods design was used to investigate how physiotherapists construct a definition and diagnosis of ICLB, via online qualitative and quantitative questions. Participants included 63 Australian physiotherapists who treated at least one woman with ICLB per month, over the last year. Thematic analysis and descriptive statistics were used to analyse qualitative and quantitative responses, respectively. Results: ICLB definition varied among physiotherapists (n = 63) with generated themes including definitions based on pathophysiology (57%), combination of local and systemic symptoms (38%), conditions (32%), local symptoms (25%) and breast function (16%). Overall, quantitative data supported these findings, as some physiotherapists considered blocked ducts an ICLB (83%), but some did not (17%), and some considered abscess and engorgement an ICLB (65%) and some did not (35%). For ICLB diagnosis, the main theme generated was lack of consensus between physiotherapists (n = 39) on the number or combination of local or systemic symptoms required. Quantitative data confirmed these themes, as 63% of physiotherapists (n = 63) indicated that more than one symptom was necessary to clinically diagnose ICLB, but 27% required only one symptom. For region and type of facility, consistency across the themes for region and facility was evident. Overall, quantitative data confirmed these findings, with no regional or facility differences, except physiotherapists from the Australian state of Victoria (96%) were more likely to consider blocked ducts as an ICLB, compared to those from the states of NSW (71%) or WA (71%) (n = 58; χ 2 = 6.49, p = 0.04). Conclusion: Australian physiotherapists have varied definitions of ICLB and the required ICLB symptoms for clinical diagnosis. These results may prompt physiotherapists, who treat ICLB, to engage in explicit communication when discussing an ICLB in patient care, when delivering information in training courses and in developing treatment guidelines.

Original languageEnglish
Article number48
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Breastfeeding Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 May 2020


  • Abscess
  • Breast
  • Females
  • Lactation
  • Mastitis
  • Postpartum period

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