STUDY DESIGN: Resident’s case problem. BACKGROUND: Abdominal pain is a common symptom, but not a common diagnosis, of patients referred to physical therapists for examination and intervention. For patients with primary symptoms of abdominal pain, a thorough evaluation must be performed to determine if symptoms are musculoskeletal in nature or of a nonmusculoskeletal origin that would warrant a referral to a different healthcare provider. This report describes the management of 3 adults with primary complaints of abdominal pain who were referred for physical therapy evaluation and treatment. DIAGNOSIS: Two of the patients had secondary symptoms of hip and/or low back pain and had previously undergone extensive medical testing for their chronic abdominal pain, without a definitive diagnosis having been determined. A physical therapy evaluation was conducted, and treatment, including manual physical therapy and exercise, was administered to address all relative impairments, once the physical therapist had determined that the patients’ symptoms were of musculoskeletal origin. The third patient included in this series was referred to a physical therapist with a diagnosis of greater trochanteric versus iliopsoas bursitis. However, the patient had abdominal pain that was more acute in nature and a history and physical examination findings that were concerning for abdominal pain of nonmusculoskeletal origin. Both patients with abdominal pain of musculoskeletal origin showed marked improvement in pain and disability after 7 treatment sessions. The third patient was referred to her primary care physician, and ultrasound examination of the abdomen revealed several intrauterine masses that were consistent with uterine fibroids. Following uterine fibroid embolization, the patient was symptom free. DISCUSSION: Although not routinely managed by physical therapists, abdominal pain is a relatively common patient symptom that can have several causes, both musculoskeletal and nonmusculoskeletal. This paper emphasizes the importance of physical therapists having the necessary differential diagnostic skills to determine if patients with primary symptoms of abdominal pain require physician referral or physical therapist intervention. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Differential diagnosis, level 4.
J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2013;43(2):44-53. Epub 14 January 2013. doi:10.2519/jospt.2013.4408
KEY WORDS: abdominal examination, differential diagnosis, hip, low back pain, manual physical therapy
References in the text and in the reference section were amended in the March 2013 Erratum, and the article PDF with the Erratum page included is provided here. Please see: March 2013 Erratum
This report describes the management of 3 adults with primary complaints of abdominal pain who were referred for physical therapy evaluation and treatment.
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