The evolution of physiotherapy research indexed in PEDro from 1986 to 2017

Have you ever wondered how the physiotherapy profession has changed over time? Are the interventions being used and research the same now as they were 30 years ago? Who produces this evidence and has the research become more impactful? A recent article published in the Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy provides some insights.

The article undertook a bibliometric approach to describe the thematic structure of physiotherapy using articles indexed in the PEDro database. Bibliometrics involves using quantitative data extracted from scientific publication to study science dynamics and research performance. The bibliometric analysis of articles indexed in PEDro investigated how the topics of physiotherapy interventions have changed over three time periods (1986 to 1997, 1998 to 2007, and 2008 to 2017) and determined the main producers of this research.

Analysing 29,090 articles, this study found an exponential increase in physiotherapy research being produced from 1986 to 2017. The physiotherapy profession, as described by the research indexed in PEDro, can be categorised into eight topics: “neurological rehabilitation”; “methods”; “exercise for prevention and rehabilitation of lifestyle diseases”; “assessment and treatment of musculoskeletal pain”; “physical activity, health promotion, and behaviour change”; “respiratory physical therapy”; “hospital, primary care, and health economics”; and, “cancer and complementary therapies”. There has been increased emphasis on topics related to “neurological rehabilitation”, “methods”, “exercise related to lifestyle diseases”, and “physical activity” with time. From 1986 to 2017, 108 countries published at least one article evaluating physiotherapy interventions. While the main producers of this research were traditionally located in North America (USA and Canada) and Europe (France, Finland, and Netherlands), there is a substantial increase in research from other countries including Australia, China, and Brazil. Interestingly, the most productive countries and institutions were not always found to obtain the highest research impact, in terms of average citation per article.

Bibliometric research provides insights into the structure and evolution of professions. While the physiotherapy profession has embraced evidence-based practice, it is encouraging to see the growth in research activity with time and the proliferation of research being produced in low- and middle-income countries. The visualisation methods used for bibliometric data can allow for the identification of evidence-practice gaps, research priorities, and novel research directions taken by clinicians, researchers and stakeholders. For example, future studies could track the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the scientific production of research in physiotherapy. Sometimes, to better understand where we are going, there is a need to stop and take a look at where we have been and, in this case, bibliometrics provides some answers.

Carballo-Costa L, et al. Evolution of the thematic structure and main producers of physical therapy interventions research: A bibliometric analysis (1986 to 2017). Braz J Phys Ther. 2022;26(4):100429

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