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Joint pain, specifically chronic knee pain (CKP), is a frequent cause of chronic pain and limitation of function and mobility among older adults. Multiple evidence-based guidelines recommend exercise as a first-line treatment for all patients with CKP or knee osteoarthritis (KOA), yet healthcare practitioners' attitudes and beliefs may limit their implementation. This systematic review aims to identify the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of General Practitioners (GPs) regarding the use of exercise for CKP/KOA.
We searched four electronic databases between inception and January 2008, using subject headings to identify studies examining the attitudes, beliefs or behaviours of GPs regarding the use of exercise for the treatment of CKP/KOA in adults aged over 45 years in primary care. Studies referring to patellofemoral pain syndrome or CKP secondary to other causes or that occurring in a prosthetic joint were excluded. Once inclusion and exclusion criteria were applied, study data were extracted and summarised. Study quality was independently reviewed using two assessment tools.
From 2135 potentially relevant articles, 20 were suitable for inclusion. A variety of study methodologies and approaches to measuring attitudes beliefs and behaviours were used among the studies. Quality assessment revealed good reporting of study objective, type, outcome factors and, generally, the sampling frame. However, criticisms included use of small sample sizes, low response rates and under-reporting of non-responder factors. Although 99% of GPs agreed that exercise should be used for CKP/KOA and reported ever providing advice or referring to a physiotherapist, up to 29% believed that rest was the optimum management approach. The frequency of actual provision of exercise advice or physiotherapy referral was lower. Estimates of provision of exercise advice and physiotherapy referral were generally higher for vignette-based studies (exercise advice 9%-89%; physiotherapy referral 44%-77%) than reviews of actual practice (exercise advice 5%-52%; physiotherapy referral 13-63%).
Attitudes and beliefs of GPs towards exercise for CKP/KOA vary widely and exercise appears to be underused in the management of CKP/KOA. Limitations of the evidence base include the paucity of studies directly examining attitudes of GPs, poor methodological quality, limited generalisability of results and ambiguity concerning GPs' expected roles. Further investigation is required of the roles of GPs in using exercise as first-line management of CKP/KOA.
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