Physiotherapists use a small number of behaviour change techniques when promoting physical activity: A systematic review comparing experimental and observational studies

Breanne E. Kunstler, Jill L. Cook, Nicole Freene, Caroline F. Finch, Joanne L. Kemp, Paul D. O'Halloran, James E. Gaida

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22 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: Physiotherapists promote physical activity as part of their practice. This study reviewed the behaviour change techniques physiotherapists use when promoting physical activity in experimental and observational studies. Design: Systematic review of experimental and observational studies. Methods: Twelve databases were searched using terms related to physiotherapy and physical activity. We included experimental studies evaluating the efficacy of physiotherapist-led physical activity interventions delivered to adults in clinic-based private practice and outpatient settings to individuals with, or at risk of, non-communicable diseases. Observational studies reporting the techniques physiotherapists use when promoting physical activity were also included. The behaviour change techniques used in all studies were identified using the Behaviour Change Technique Taxonomy. The behaviour change techniques appearing in efficacious and inefficacious experimental interventions were compared using a narrative approach. Results: Twelve studies (nine experimental and three observational) were retained from the initial search yield of 4141. Risk of bias ranged from low to high. Physiotherapists used seven behaviour change techniques in the observational studies, compared to 30 behaviour change techniques in the experimental studies. Social support (unspecified) was the most frequently identified behaviour change technique across both settings. Efficacious experimental interventions used more behaviour change techniques (n = 29) and functioned in more ways (n = 6) than did inefficacious experimental interventions (behaviour change techniques = 10 and functions = 1). Conclusions: Physiotherapists use a small number of behaviour change techniques. Less behaviour change techniques were identified in observational studies compared to experimental studies, suggesting physiotherapists use less BCTs clinically than experimentally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)609-615
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Science and Medicine in Sport
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Exercise
  • Health behavior
  • Health Promotion
  • Physical therapists

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