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Are randomised control trials best for evaluating the effect of complex physical therapy interventions?
  1. Håvard Østerås1,
  2. Fredrik Paulsberg2,
  3. Karin Gravare Silbernagel3
  1. 1 Department of Neuromedicine and Movement Science, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
  2. 2 Department of Physical Therapy, Rosenborg Clinique of Physical Therapy, Trondheim, Norway
  3. 3 Department of Physical Therapy, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Håvard Østerås, epartment of Neuromedicine and Movement Science, Faculty of Medicine and Health Science, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway; havard.osteras{at}

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Well-executed randomised controlled trials (RCTs) provide high levels of evidence for treatment efficacy. They enable the cause and effect of sports physical therapy treatments to be explored under ideal circumstances, with one treatment element often evaluated at a time. However, treatment elements are rarely delivered in isolation in contemporary practice and are inherently complex. Treatments are customised to address a patient’s impairments, with intervention dose, frequency and intensity adjusted for each individual. Treatment elements may also have interacting effects. If an RCT evaluates only one aspect of a treatment, there would be evidence for that individual component’s efficacy, but it would be inefficient and expensive to study all components in isolation and interactions between treatment elements would go unrecognised. Therefore, RCTs have potential limitations when considering the most efficient path forward for sports physiotherapy research.

How can ‘best practice’ be evaluated?

It is not feasible to test every detail in best clinical practice. Thus, clinicians need to incorporate the best available evidence with their own experiences and their …

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  • Contributors All authors have contributed to the manuscript according to the Vancouver rules.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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