Physiotherapists’ accounts of fibromyalgia: role-uncertainty and professional shortcomings

Neta Roitenberg, Avihu Shoshana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: This article examines accounts of fibromyalgia provided by physiotherapists. This qualitative study asks how physiotherapists define and understand fibromyalgia, what professional resources are available to them for treating patients, and where physiotherapists can turn when facing the scarcity of professional resources. Method: The data were collected by means of semi-structured, in-depth, face-to-face interviews, conducted with 20 practicing physiotherapists. The physiotherapists were recruited using a purposive-sampling strategy and had extensive experience treating fibromyalgia patients (mean value: 6.5 years). The authors analyzed the interviews in accordance with the methods of thematic analysis. Results: The study findings expose two overarching themes: (a) fibromyalgia as an ambiguous and uncertain diagnosis: physiotherapists devalue the diagnosis, referring to it as a syndrome rooted on psychological factors; (b) role ambiguity and creativity in physiotherapy treatment: by questioning their role, physiotherapists end up focusing on illness management and developing creative treatments. Conclusions: The study concludes that treating fibromyalgia patients challenges physiotherapists, mainly because of professional shortcomings. The findings highlight the necessity to train physiotherapists to respond to the needs of their patients with greater competence and less ambivalence.Implications for rehabilitation Health providers need to acknowledge the difficulty physiotherapists are facing when providing treatment to fibromyalgia patients. Physiotherapists treating fibromyalgia should undergo special training to reduce their uncertainty and role ambiguity. Health providers should improve communication between physiotherapists and the General Practitioners referring fibromyalgia patients, to enable them to set shared evidence-based treatment goals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)545-552
Number of pages8
JournalDisability and Rehabilitation
Issue number4
StatePublished - 13 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Fibromyalgia
  • chronic pain
  • contested illnesses
  • physiotherapy
  • qualitative research
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Uncertainty
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Humans
  • Fibromyalgia/therapy
  • Physical Therapists
  • Qualitative Research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation


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