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HHPE 402 Physical Exam of the Spine and Upper Extremities in Athletic Training: PICO Statements


Use the PICO formula to create a good question:

  • PATIENT / POPULATION – the "who" of your question
  • INTERVENTION – What main intervention or treatment are you considering? 
  • COMPARISON – What is the main alternative to compare with the intervention? Are you trying to decide between two drugs?  A drug and no medication, or placebo?  Or two diagnostic tests?
  • OUTCOME – What do you hope for the outcome?

Some PICO's also integrate the concept of time: T

Sample Format:  For (P)_______ how would (I)_______ compared to (C)_______ affect (O)_______?

Example 1

Clinical question:

  • Do weekly exercise sessions allow 40-50 year old women to maintain their weight loss better than biweekly exercise sessions?

P = 40-50 year old women

I = weekly exercise sessions

C = biweekly exercise sessions

O = better weight loss management

Example 2

Clinical question:

  • For college soccer players with lateral ankle sprains, do surgical ligament repairs reduce sprain recurrence more than non-surgical treatments?

P = college soccer players with lateral ankle sprains

I = surgical ligament repairs

C = non-surgical treatments

O = reduced rate of recurrence


If you're struggling with PICO, these tips might help.

  • Some scenarios won't have a comparison.
  • For some scenarios, the comparison could be not doing anything. 
  • If you're not sure which item is the intervention and which is the comparison, you can still begin your search.