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Phenomenological physiotherapy: extending the concept of bodily intentionality
  1. Jan Halák,
  2. Petr Kříž
  1. Department of Philosophy, Palacky University Olomouc, Olomouc, Czech Republic
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jan Halák, Department of Philosophy, Palacky University Olomouc, Olomouc 771 47, Czech Republic; jan.halak{at}


This study clarifies the need for a renewed account of the body in physiotherapy to fill sizable gaps between physiotherapeutical theory and practice. Physiotherapists are trained to approach bodily functioning from an objectivist perspective; however, their therapeutic interactions with patients are not limited to the provision of natural-scientific explanations. Physiotherapists’ practice corresponds well to theorisation of the body as the bearer of original bodily intentionality, as outlined by Merleau-Ponty and elaborated upon by enactivists. We clarify how physiotherapeutical practice corroborates Merleau-Ponty’s critical arguments against objectivist interpretations of the body; particularly, his analyses demonstrate that norms of optimal corporeal functioning are highly individual and variable in time and thus do not directly depend on generic physiological structures. In practice, objectively measurable physical deviations rarely correspond to specific subjective difficulties and, similarly, patients’ reflective insights into their own motor deficiencies do not necessarily produce meaningful motor improvements. Physiotherapeutical procedures can be understood neither as mechanical manipulations of patients’ machine-like bodies by experts nor as a process of such manipulation by way of instructing patients’ explicit conscious awareness. Rather, physiotherapeutical practice and theory can benefit from the philosophical interpretation of motor disorders as modifications of bodily intentionality. Consequently, motor performances addressed in physiotherapy are interpreted as relational features of a living organism coupled with its environment, and motor disorders are approached as failures to optimally manage the motor requirements of a given situation owing to a relative loss of the capacity to structure one’s relation with their environment through motor action. Building on this, we argue that the process of physiotherapy is most effective when understood as a bodily interaction to guide patients towards discovering better ways of grasping a situation as meaningful through bodily postures and movements.

  • philosophy of medicine/health care
  • physiotherapist
  • philosophy
  • philosophy of science
  • rehabilitation medicine including disability

Data availability statement

Data sharing is not applicable as no data sets were generated and/or analysed for this study.

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Data availability statement

Data sharing is not applicable as no data sets were generated and/or analysed for this study.

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  • Contributors This paper is the result of joint authorship, both authors contributed to the text. PK wrote the first version of Section 2 and provided suggestions of examples from physiotherapeutical practice. JH wrote the first version of Sections 3 and 4 with the physiotherapeutical examples in mind. Both authors then revised and supplemented each other’s drafts. Both authors wrote the introduction, conclusion and abstract together. JH is responsible for the overall content as guarantor.

  • Funding Work on this study was supported by the project “The Dynamics of Corporeal Intentionality,” Palacký University Olomouc, reg. no. JG_2019_006.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.