The Current State of Physical Therapy Pain Curricula in the United States: A Faculty Survey

  • Marie K. Hoeger Bement
    Department of Physical Therapy, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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  • Kathleen A. Sluka
    Address reprint requests to Kathleen A. Sluka, PT, PhD, FAPTA, Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, 1-248 MEB, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242.
    Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, Pain Research Program, Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa
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Published:November 11, 2014DOI:


      • The average contact hours teaching pain in physical therapy curricula was 31 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.
      • 61% of respondents believed that their students received adequate education in pain management.


      Insufficient pain education is problematic across the health care spectrum. Recent educational advancements have been made to combat the deficits in pain education to ensure that health care professionals are proficient in assessing and managing pain. The purpose of this survey was to determine the extent of pain education in current Doctorate of Physical Therapy schools in the United States, including how pain is incorporated into the curriculum, the amount of time spent teaching about pain, and the resources used to teach about 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 about pain was 31 ± 1.8 (mean ± standard error of the mean) 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 believed that their students received adequate education in pain management. Thus, this survey demonstrated how pain education is incorporated into physical therapy schools and highlighted areas for improvement such as awareness of recent educational advancements.


      This article demonstrates how pain education is incorporated into physical therapy curricula within accredited programs. Understanding the current structure of pain education in health professional curriculum can serve as a basis to determine if recent publications of guidelines and competencies impact education.

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