A framework exploring the therapeutic alliance between elite athletes and physiotherapists: a qualitative study

W.M. Charmant*, P.J. van der Wees, J.B. Staal, R. van Cingel, J.M. Sieben, R.A. de Bie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background The therapeutic alliance (TA) is the bond between a patient and a physiotherapist during collaboration on recovery or training. Previous studies focused on the TA between physiotherapists and patients of the general population. Little information exists on whether this is similar in the demanding environment of elite athletes. The aim of this study was to investigate the components of TA between elite athletes and physiotherapists. Methods Ten elite athletes and ten physiotherapists were interviewed using one-on-one semi-structured interviews between June 2020 and October 2020. Athletes were included if they competed at national or international championships. Physiotherapists had to treat elite athletes on a regular basis. Interview questions were based on TA components of the general physiotherapy population. The interviews were transcribed and coded using inductive thematic analysis. Results The analysis resulted in an elite athlete TA framework which consists of nine themes and ten subthemes that could influence the TA. The nine themes are trust, communication, professional bond, social bond, elite athlete, physiotherapist, time, pressure and adversity, and external factors. This showed that the TA consists of bonds on different social levels, depends on the traits of both elite athletes and physiotherapists, and can be positively and negatively influenced by the external environment. The influences from the external environment seem to be more present in the elite athlete TA compared to the TA in the general physiotherapy setting. Multiple relations between themes were discovered. Trust is regarded as the main connecting theme. Conclusion This study provides a framework to better understand the complex reality of the TA between elite athletes and physiotherapists. Compared to the general physiotherapy setting, new themes emerged. The created framework can help elite athletes and physiotherapists to reflect and improve their TA and subsequently improve treatment outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number122
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 9 Oct 2021


  • Elite athletes
  • Physiotherapists
  • Therapeutic alliance
  • Qualitative research


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