Ankle sprains: an investigation into patient perceptions and performance of physical tasks following acute ankle sprains using a mixed methods approach
Introduction: Ankle injuries are among the most prevalent acute musculoskeletal injuries, and are a significant burden on any health system. The interaction of the physiotherapist with the patient and their mutual understanding of impairments, function and recovery are important to achieving a satisfactory return to work and leisure activities. To date, little attention has focused on this interaction. There is a need for further exploration of differences and associations between outcome questionnaires that investigate similar domains of pain and function, and whether scores from such outcome measures are related to the patient’s perception of function and recovery. Of further interest is whether there are relationships between impairment measures and perceived function, and how actual performance of tasks might influence the patients understanding of their capabilities. To provide a more complete picture of these relationships, a ‘mixed methods’ approach using qualitative research methods within a quantitative study was thought to be most appropriate. The overall aim of this thesis was to utilise this research approach to investigate patients’ perceptions of their recovery and elucidate factors important to both therapists and patients that ultimately might enhance their understanding of recovery from an ankle injury.
Literature reviews: Three literature reviews were undertaken. Firstly a review of systematic reviews investigating ankle sprains identified a wide variety of management strategies. There was a lack of strong evidence to support any particular management strategy. Hence clinicians are likely to have difficulty setting appropriate rehabilitation plans. Secondly a critical review identified a number of different outcome questionnaires that were utilised to gauge recovery level; however, justification for their selection was often lacking. This review also identified that little emphasis was placed on understanding the patients’ perception of their injury and the rehabilitation process. A final critical review investigated impairment and performance measures and identified four specific areas that were focused upon by clinicians during the treatment of ankle sprains: joint position sense, postural control, strength and performance during function. However, only weak evidence was found for there being a deficit in joint position sense, postural control and strength in the injured limb following an ankle sprain, and inconclusive evidence of deficits in physical performance of tasks related to function.
Methods: Forty participants with an acute sprained ankle were recruited along with their treating physiotherapist. The participants completed a Global questionnaire, the Lower Limb Task Questionnaire (LLTQ) and the Short Form -36 (SF-36) Questionnaire at the initial visit, at discharge and at a six week follow up visit where they also undertook impairment testing involving, joint position sense, postural control and strength along with a functional performance test and selected functional activities. Ten participants were purposefully selected to undertake semi-structured interviews. The treating physiotherapists completed global questionnaires at the initial visit and at time of discharge. An interpretive hermeneutic approach was undertaken to examine the participants’ perceptions. Results: There were equal numbers of males and female participants and the average age of participants was 30.5 years. The relationship between questionnaires for the domains of pain and function varied between low and high degrees of association. The global limitations scores between the participants and physiotherapists were similar at the initial visit, whereas on discharge the participants had a significantly lower score (p<0.05) compared to the physiotherapists. With respect to impairment testing, there was a significant difference (p<0.05) between the uninjured limb compared to the injured limb for the joint position sense and performance agility hop test. All other comparisons of impairments were not significant (p>0.05). There was no association between questionnaire scores and impairment measures (p>0.05). Additionally there were no significant associations between previous injury and questionnaire scores and impairment measures. Finally in relation to the performance of specific functional tests there was a significant difference (p<0.05) between the six week follow up LLTQ score and the score following actual performance of the test. The findings of the participants’ interviews identified three key concerns. Firstly, that participants have a limited understanding of questionnaires, and secondly, that there is a difference in understanding of ‘recovery’ between the therapist and the patient at time of discharge. Thirdly, there was dissociation between outcome measures and the patient’s perception of their own recovery. Conclusions: This study revealed a lack of understanding and effective communication concerning physiotherapy practice in relation to ankle sprains. It was apparent that questionnaires purporting to measure similar constructs are at times dissimilar in scores and are not related strongly. Care needs to be taken in selecting and interpreting outcome measures particularly in relation to questionnaires. It was also apparent that caution should be exercised when considering the influence of impairment measures upon function. Physiotherapists should be aware that patients may perceive a lack of confidence in their level of function at the time of discharge. As a result physiotherapists need to incorporate strategies to improve patient confidence in their management plan.