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Physical Therapy, Movement & Rehabilitation Sciences: EBP, Systematic Reviews

A guide to library resources and research in physical therapy, rehabilititation, sports physical therapy, occupational ergonomics and health

What is Evidence Based in Physical Therapy

Below is information related to structuring search strategies. PICO is one method to identify the problem with a structured research question. 

PICO Worksheet

Evidence Based Practice: PICO Method

1.  Formulate an answerable question. 

2.  Answerable questions have a format that follows the PICO concept.



 Example: in adults with knee osteoarthritis, is manual therapy more effective than exercise therapy?

What does PICO stand for? 

  • P -- Populations, People, Patient, Problem
  • I -- Intervention
  • C -- Comparison
  • O -- Outcome

Searching for Information: your question will guide your topic and terms to be used in your search strategy.

Definitions-Publication Types

Systematic Reviews
Address a focused clinical question where review authors systematically search for, identify, select, summarize and critically apraise all of the medical research literature available on a specific topic.  Statistical techniques may be used to combine the results of these studies.  The authors clearly state the search methods used to locate these studies.  It is important to examine the search methods used and decide for yourself if it was broad enough to include all of the relevant studies, and if the studies found were relevant to the clinical question.

Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial  (RCT)
An experimental design used for testing the effectiveness of a new medication or a new therapeutic procedure. Individuals are assigned randomly to a treatment group or a control group, and the outcomes are compared. RCT is the most accepted scientific method of determining the benefit of a drug or a therapeutic procedure. It represents the best evidence available, which is integrated into the final decision about the management of a condition by healthcare practitioners in what is called evidence-based healthcare.

Clinical Trial
an experiment performed on human beings in order to evaluate the comparative efficacy of two or more therapies. 

In the Cochrane Library database, the protocol outlines the question that the review authors are addressing, detailing the criteria against which studies will be assessed for inclusion in the review, and describing how the authors will manage the review process.

When results of individual studies are combined to produce an overall statistic.

Review Article
Brings together information about previously published research on a topic.  It provides a critical appraisal of the topic over a period of time. It is helpful in identifying the important literature on a topic. Given the vast amount of scientific literature published, review articles are an excellent tool for researchers wishing to research a topic.

Looking to Find Systematic Reviews?

There are a number of places to look for systematic reviews, including within the commonly used databases listed on this page. Some other resources to consider are:


Licensed Through the Library


Searching is an iterative process; you're unlikely to create the perfect search on the first try. Follow the steps below to create a usable search string from a topic or research question.

Step 1: Extract the most relevant concepts from your topic or research question.

PICO is one framework used to help extract relevant concepts from a clinical research question.

P = Population / Problem / Patient

I = Intervention / Issue

C = Comparison / Control

O = Outcome

PICO is a tool to help you break down the question into concepts; whether or not you use PICO is not all that important. The important thing is to break down your research question into its component parts, one way or another.

Step 2: Term harvesting

Next, brainstorm alternative ways of phrasing each of your concepts. The goal here is for you to be able to use these alternative phrasings to create one high quality search which you can use to find the vast majority of relevant literature. Consider: synonyms, variant spellings, singular and plural forms, broader and more specific concepts, acronyms, and archaic terminology.

Step 3: Weave together your search string

With your lists of alternative phrasings in hand, you can now weave together your search string using boolean operators to connect your concepts. Your search string should look along the lines of:

(concept1 OR synonym) AND (concept2 OR synonym) AND (concept3 OR synonym)

Step 4: Search & iterate

As you search, you may notice additional phrasings for concepts which you hadn't originally considered. Add them into your search, within the appropriate concept group. If you are searching in PubMed, you may find it useful to include Mesh terms (PubMed's controlled vocabulary) in your search string. If you are finding too few results, you may want to remove one of your concept groups. If you are finding too many results, you may want to use the database's filters.

Best Databases for a PICO Search



Practice Guidelines


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