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People suffering from functional disorders often experience symptoms from various organ systems. Many experience pain in their musculoskeletal system and physiotherapists will therefore be one of the specialists that the patient contacts early on.


It is a prerequisite for a good treatment that the physiotherapist recognises the symptoms of a functional disorder. Therefore, having basic knowledge about the disease is essential. A lot of the relevant information can be found on this website and in the recommended literature.

When examining the patient, the physiotherapist should ask about symptoms outside of the musculoskeletal system. Some will meet the criteria for having a severe functional disorder, what we call Bodily Distress Syndrome, or 'BDS', in our scientific work.

Read more about the diagnostic criteria here.

Diffuse symptoms and a fluctuating activity level

Patients with functional disorders will often present with a diffuse symptom picture. There may be concomitant symptoms such as increased fatigue following physical exertion, stomach pain, palpitation, fluctuating stools and dizziness.

The patient often experiences a pronounced fluctuating activity level. One day the patient has a high activity level with a striking endurance, whereas the next day the patient experiences a surprisingly low endurance level. This is characteristic of functional disorders.


Functional disorders should be regarded and treated in a so-called bio-psycho-social model. In other words, the challenge for the physiotherapist is to look beyond the usual way of thinking that physical symptoms exclusively have a physical cause. However, the physiotherapist should still be working on the part of the problem that relates to the musculoskeletal system.

There is evidence that graded exercise therapy (GET) has a good effect on functional disorders. This form of training can be managed by physiotherapists.

The overall principle is that the training should be slow and graded. The exercises should challenge the patient's limits, but not transcend them in a way where the patient experiences a worsening of the symptoms the next day.

Detailed description of graded exercise therapy:





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Revised 04.01.2018