Education: pain (FS-07)

Meeting the global challenge of pain education for physical therapists

Julia Hush (Australia), Kathleen Sluka (United States of America), Graciela Rovner (Sweden)

Focused symposium

Sunday 3 May 2015, 16:00-17:30, Hall 405

Meeting the global challenge of pain education for physical therapists

Hush J. 1, Sluka K. 2, Rovner G. 3,4

1Macquarie University, Discipline of Physiotherapy, Sydney, Australia, 2University of Iowa, Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, Iowa City, United States of America, 3University of Gothenburg, Rehabilitation Medicine Dept., Gothenburg, Sweden,, Gothenburg, Sweden

Learning objectives

  1. To understand how pain education for physical therapists, based on modern pain science, is critical for improving clinical outcomes in pain management.
  2. To learn about new evidence-based pain education resources available to enhance physical therapist training and clinical competencies.
  3. To identify successful practical methods to teach pain science to physical therapists, in entry-level programs or in clinical education and specialisation level.


Pain is the most common reason people consult a physical therapist. Recent research has revealed that inadequately managed pain is a major source of human and socioeconomic costs. In Europe and Australia, one in five people live with persisting pain. 1,2 In America this figure is higher still, at one in three, costing $600 billion annually. 3

International research clearly shows that a major contributor to this problem is inadequate education of healthcare professionals, including physical therapists. 3-5 Recent surveys of the curricula of health care professions at universities in Canada and the UK show that current pain education is inadequate preparation for professional practice. 6

In the last two years there have been major efforts internationally to address this education gap. Most notable are: (1) the 2012 publication by the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) of reviewed and updated curricula for pain education for physiotherapists; 7 and (2) the 2013 publication of core pain management competencies for entry-level health professional education, by an expert panel of educators and clinicians, including symposium presenter Professor Kathleen Sluka.8

Truly global perspectives will be represented in this symposium, with speakers explaining the specific contexts of pain education in the United States, Australia, Sweden and in a developing country, Argentina. Both Dr Hush and Professor Sluka will discuss application of the 2012 IASP pain curriculum to physical therapy programs in Australia and the United States respectively. Dr Hush will explain the educational model used to integrate modern pain science into the new Doctor of Physiotherapy program at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. Professor Sluka, who was involved in the development of the core pain management competencies,8 will discuss her experiences of integrating these competencies into physical therapy curricula and practice in the United States. Graciela Rovner will provide a unique perspective on her experiences of planning pain education and professional training in Sweden, UK, Spain and Argentina, based on projects that were funded by the EU and the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) through the Developing Countries Project Grant for Improving Pain Education and an IASP Collaborative Research Grant. 

The speakers will describe practical approaches to teach pain science to physical therapy students and professionals, in an integrated clinical context. Both global and local issues that impact on pain education practices will be addressed, such as clinical paradigms (biomedical versus biopsychosocial models) and access to literature on pain science and pain management, which can be a challenge in developing countries.


1. Blyth F, March L, Brnabic A, Jorm L, Williamson M, Cousins M. Chronic pain in Australia: a prevalence study. Pain. 2001;89:127-134.

2. Breivik H, Collett B, Ventafridda V, et al. Survey of chronic pain in Europe: prevalence, impact on daily life, and treatment. Eur J Pain. May 2006;10(4):287-333.

3. Pizzo PA, Clark NM. Alleviating suffering 101-pain relief in the United States. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2012;366(3):197-199.

4. International Association for the Study of Pain. Declaration of Montréal. 2010.

5. Jones LE, Hush JM. Pain education for physiotherapists: is it time for curriculum reform? Journal of physiotherapy. 2011;57(4):207-208.

6. Foster NE, Delitto A. Embedding Psychosocial Perspectives Within Clinical Management of Low Back Pain: Integration of Psychosocially Informed Management Principles Into Physical Therapist Practice--Challenges and Opportunities. Physical Therapy. 2011;91(5):790-803.

7. International Association for the Study of Pain. IASP Curricula. 2012.

8. Fishman SM, Young HM, Lucas Arwood E, et al. Core Competencies for Pain Management: Results of an Interprofessional Consensus Summit. Pain Medicine. 2013.

Implications / Conclusions

Implications: This symposium will provide an international perspective on innovations in pain education for physical therapists, spanning Australia, the United States, Sweden and Argentina. Importantly, participants will learn about new resources to educate physical therapists about modern pain science and evidence-based pain management practices.


Pain; Education; Physical therapy

Funding acknowledgements

Graciela Rovner received a 2012 IASP Developing Countries Project Grant For Improving Pain Education and an IASP Collaborative Research Grant.

Relevance to WCPT and expected audience

This symposium has direct relevance to the WCPT as it addresses fundamental issues of training and clinical competencies of physiotherapists. The speakers will explain recent global initiatives to improve pain education for physiotherapists in the US, Australia, Sweden and Argentina. Participants will learn about new resources to educate physical therapists about modern pain science and evidence-based pain management practices. Relevance to a range of participants is ensured by the international contexts integral to this symposium.

Target audience

This symposium will be relevant to physical therapy educators involved in entry-level programs and clinical education, practitioners who treat pain and clinical researchers.