Assessing Cranial Nerves in Physical Therapy Practice: findings from a Cross-Sectional Survey and Implication for Clinical Practice

Firas Mourad, Giovanni Lopez, Fabio Cataldi, Filippo Maselli, Leonardo Pellicciari, Mattia Salomon, Hendrikus Kranenburg, Roger Kerry, Alan Taylor, Nathan Hutting

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background and objective: Serious pathologies of the neck can potentially result in cranial nerve palsy. Knowledge about cranial nerve examination (CNE) seems sparse, and its use is still unknown. We aim to investigate the knowledge, skills, and utilization of CNE of Italian physiotherapists. Materials and Methods: An online cross-sectional survey. Results: 396 completed the survey, reaching the required sample size. Although Italian physiotherapists consider CNE relevant (mean ± SD = 7.6/10 ± 2.0), over half of all responders (n = 229 (57.8%)) were not trained in the fundamentals and around a third did not use it in their daily practice (n = 138 (34.8%)). Additionally, participants were unconfident and insecure in conducting (n = 152 (38.4%) and n = 147 (37.1%)), interpreting (n = 140 (35.4%) and n = 164 (41.4%)), and managing the CNE (n = 141 (35.6%) and n = 154 (38.9%)). Possessing a musculoskeletal specialization was associated with an increased value attributed to clinical practice guidelines and reduced the lack of confidence in conducting, interpreting, and managing the CNE (respectively, n = 35 (25.5%), p = 0.0001; n = 32 (23.4%) p = 0.0002; n = 32 (23.4%) p = 0.0002). Working in a direct access setting significantly increased the considered relevance of guidelines and the concerns about arterial (p = 0.004) and other serious pathologies (p = 0.021). Pain and visual disturbances were considered the main indicators to CNE, demonstrating limited knowledge of signs and symptoms’ indicating CNE. Participants considered specific training in CNE as relevant (mean ± SD = 7.6/10 = 2.1). Conclusions: a substantial proportion of Italian physiotherapists are not schooled in the fundamentals of cranial nerve examination. Given the number of physiotherapists who work in first contact roles, this is a professional concern.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 24 Sept 2021


  • cranial nerve examination
  • physical therapy
  • differential diagnosis
  • neck pain
  • neurological examination


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