Clinical Reasoning in Physical Therapy: A Concept Analysis

Karen Huhn, Sarah J. Gilliland, Lisa L. Black, Susan F. Wainwright, Nicole Christensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Background Physical therapy, along with most health professions, struggles to describe clinical reasoning, despite it being a vital skill in effective patient care. This lack of a unified conceptualization of clinical reasoning leads to variable and inconsistent teaching, assessment, and research. Objective The objective was to conceptualize a broad description of physical therapists' clinical reasoning grounded in the published literature and to unify understanding for future work related to teaching, assessment, and research. Design/Methods The design included a systematic concept analysis using Rodgers' evolutionary methodology. A concept analysis is a research methodology in which a concept's characteristics and the relation between features of the concept are clarified. Results Based on findings in the literature, clinical reasoning in physical therapy was conceptualized as integrating cognitive, psychomotor, and affective skills. It is contextual in nature and involves both therapist and client perspectives. It is adaptive, iterative, and collaborative with the intended outcome being a biopsychosocial approach to patient/client management. Limitations Although a comprehensive approach was intended, it is possible that the search methods or reduction of the literature were incomplete or key sources were mistakenly excluded. Conclusions A description of clinical reasoning in physical therapy was conceptualized, as it currently exists in representative literature. The intent is for it to contribute to the unification of an understanding of how clinical reasoning has been conceptualized to date by practitioners, academicians, and clinical educators. Substantial work remains to further develop the concept of clinical reasoning for physical therapy, including the role of movement in our reasoning in practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)440-456
Number of pages17
JournalPhysical therapy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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