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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.


The objective was to conceptualize a broad description of physical therapists’ clinical reasoning grounded in the published literature and to unify our understanding for future work related to teaching, assessment, and research.


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 relationship between features of the concept is clarified.


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.


Although a comprehensive approach was intended, it is possible that the search methods or reduction of the literature was incomplete or key sources were mistakenly excluded.


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 be done to further develop the concept of clinical reasoning for physical therapy, including the role of movement in our reasoning in practice.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Physical Therapy following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version

Huhn K, Gilliland SJ, Black LL, Wainwright SF, Christensen N. Clinical reasoning in physical therapy: A concept analysis. Physi Ther. 2018;99(4):440-456. doi: 10.1093/ptj/pzy148

is available online at DOI:10.1093/ptj/pzy148.

Peer Reviewed



Oxford University Press



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