Use of participant focus groups to identify barriers and facilitators to worksite exercise therapy adherence in randomized controlled trials involving firefighters
John M Mayer,1 James L Nuzzo,1 Simon Dagenais2
1School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences, College of Medicine, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, 2Palladian Health, West Seneca, NY, USA
Background: Firefighters are at increased risk for back injuries, which may be mitigated through exercise therapy to increase trunk muscle endurance. However, long-term adherence to exercise therapy is generally poor, limiting its potential benefits. Focus groups can be used to identify key barriers and facilitators to exercise adherence among study participants.
Objective: To explore barriers and facilitators to worksite exercise therapy adherence among firefighters to inform future randomized controlled trials (RCTs).
Methods: Participants enrolled in a previous RCT requiring twice-weekly worksite exercise therapy for 24 weeks were asked to take part in moderated focus group discussions centered on eight open-ended questions related to exercise adherence. Responses were analyzed qualitatively using a social ecological framework to identify key intrapersonal, interpersonal, and institutional barriers and potential facilitators to exercise adherence.
Results: A total of 27 participants were included in the four focus group discussions, representing 50% of those assigned to a worksite exercise therapy group in the previous RCT, in which only 67% of scheduled exercise therapy sessions were completed. Lack of self-motivation was cited as the key intrapersonal barrier to adherence, while lack of peer support was the key interpersonal barrier reported, and lack of time to exercise during work shifts was the key institutional barrier identified.
Conclusion: Focus group discussions identified both key barriers and potential facilitators to increase worksite exercise therapy adherence among firefighters. Future studies should consider educating and reminding participants about the benefits of exercise, providing individual and group incentives based on exercise adherence and performance, providing outside monitoring of exercise adherence, varying the exercise routine, encouraging group exercise and competition, and scheduling exercise during each work shift.
Keywords: exercise therapy, back injuries, self-motivation, peer support