Physical Therapy

Use this guide as a starting point for your research in the area of physical therapy as well as topics in general health, physiology and kinesiology.

Construct a Complex Search in Medical Databases

Medical Databases give you the power to conduct very specific or complex searches.

Use special techniques combine search words in search boxes to effectively find the info you need:

Example scenario: What are some nursing considerations for pregnant women with high blood pressure?

See below for example search construction based on that scenario:

Click to enlarge image:


Example search construction based on that scenario (this mirrors the advanced search boxes you will see in databases):

  • Option – Use quotation marks to keep a phrase together in your search: “soft tissue mobilization”
  • Option – Use AND to connect your ideas and focus your search: “soft tissue mobilization” AND physical therapy
  • Option -  In the same box, use OR to expand your search to synonyms or related ideas: physical therapy OR physiotherapy

Video: How to Use Keywords to Form a Research Strategy

Source: "From topic to search results in two minutes! " by Holman Library is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Learn about strategizing keywords and how databases work when searching keywords.

Video: Research 101: Searching is Strategic

Source: "Research 101: Searching is Strategic" by Anna Eisen, is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

Learn how to be tenacious and flexible in searching for the best information from a variety of sources.

Try It!

Choose one topic below.  Practice constructing a search from that scenario:

  • soft tissue mobilization
  • paraffin
  • superficial heat (hot packs or thermotherapy)
  • cryotherapy
  • fluidotherapy
  • bandaging for edema
  • JOBST PUMP (pneumatic compression)
  • mechanical compression
  • mechanical traction
  • postural drainage (chest physical therapy or pulmonary hygiene)
  • chose another other PTA 110 topic

PICOT: Develop Your Research Question

STEP 1: Use the PICOT acronym to help you create a research question:


P = Patient/Population/Problem

Who is your patient? Identify a disease, health status, age, race, geographic region, sex, or a specific characteristic important to your question.

Example: stroke patients

= Intervention/Indicator

What do you plan to do for the patient? Identify a specific test, therapy, medication or management strategy.

Example: virtual reality, occupational therapy

= Compare/Control

What is the alternative to your plan? Examples may include: no treatment or a different type of treatment.

Example: non-VR (or option to have no comparison)

= Outcome

What outcome do you seek? Identify possible outcomes/results of the intervention such as less symptoms, no symptoms, or better quality of life...etc.

Example: rehabilitation, flexibility, mental health

= Time/Type of Study or Question (This element is optional and not always included)

What is the time frame? What study types will most likely have the information you seek? 

Example: systematic review


STEP 2: Search article databases using some of the concepts/words you generated from the PICO acronym: