Impairment and function: the difficulty with definition and measurement of outcome in clinical practice

Toni Bailey, Patrick Joseph Doherty, Simon Rouse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The term function is used in rehabilitation both as an expression of patient status (e.g. low functional capacity) and also as a term to capture the extent of change following rehabilitation interventions (e.g. improved walking efficiency); however there is a lack of consensus as to the possible terms used to encompass the term function. There is uncertainty about the primary focus of interventions within rehabilitation in the sense that some clinicians work on reducing impairment whereas others believe they are working at a functional level. This suggests that the terms are used interchangeably in clinical practice and that an assumed link exists between altering the impairment and improving function.
Aim: This analysis paper investigates the distinctiveness and commonality between function and impairment in rehabilitation within a conceptual framework and encourages clinicians to discuss and debate the potential for a universally recognised definition of function.
Conclusion: Function and impairment are not always considered as being distinct, resulting in attributing observed changes in impairment to a change in functional status without the evidence to support the process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)463-470
JournalInternational Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2012

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