The Current State of Physical Therapy Pain Curriculum in the USA

Inadequate pain education is problematic across the healthcare spectrum. Recent educational advancements have been made to deal with the deficits in pain education to ensure healthcare professionals are proficient in assessing and managing pain. The aim of this survey was to determine the extent of pain education in current Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT) schools in the United States including how pain is incorporated into the curriculum, the amount of time spent on pain, and the resources used to teach pain. The survey consisted of 10 questions in the following subject areas: basic science mechanisms and concepts about pain, pain assessment, pain management and adequacy of pain curriculum. The overall response was 77% (167/216) for the first series of responses of the survey (question 1) whereas 62% completed the entire survey (questions 2-10). The average contact hours teaching pain was 31 + 1.8 (mean ± S.E.M.) with a range of 5 to 115 hours. The majority of schools that responded covered the science of pain, assessment, and management. Less than 50% of respondents were aware of the Institute of Medicine report on pain or the International Association for the Study of Pain guidelines for physical therapy pain education. Only 61% of respondents thought their students received adequate education in pain management. Thus, this survey showed how pain education is incorporated into physical therapy schools and highlighted areas for improvement such as awareness of recent educational advancements.

This article provides the extent of pain education in physical therapy curriculum within accredited programs. Understanding the current structure of pain education in health professional curriculum can act as a basis to determine if recent publications of guidelines and competencies affect education.