Survey Reveals Many PTs Suffer From Pain Brought on by Work

October 15th, 2019
By: Content Staff

Physical therapists are putting their backs into their work, and it’s taking a toll on them. That’s according to a recent survey of PTs in Spain in which 49.4 percent of respondents reported having suffered from moderate to severe lower-back pain in the previous month. The survey results were highlighted by PT in Motion, a publication of the American Physical Therapy Association.

According to the online survey of 981 respondents, about 57 percent had experienced significant neck pain in the prior month. Researchers analyzed lower-back, neck and other areas of musculoskeletal pain in relation to PTs’ work conditions and demographic variables and discovered several factors that they believe elevate the likelihood of experiencing pain, PT in Motion reported.

PTs who had larger patient loads, longer work weeks and more frequent usage of machines and manual therapy were more likely to experience pain, according to the survey. Somewhat surprisingly, PTs with more years of experience were less likely to have experienced pain in the past month, PT in Motion said.

Respondents who had experienced pain in the past 30 days were asked to rate its severity on a scale of zero to 10. Researchers chose to focus on pain episodes with ratings of 3 or greater in the neck, shoulders, upper back, lower back, elbow/forearm and hand/wrist, according to PT in Motion.

Factors such as years of experience, work in the public vs. private sectors, duration of work week, number of patients seen per week, instances of treating multiple patients at once, primary patient type and primary type of treatment used all were included in the results. Respondents were an average of 34.3 years old, and women made up 70.6 percent of respondents, according to PT in Motion. The response rate of PTs who received the survey wasn’t published.

After neck and lower-back pain, upper-back pain was most common, with 36.1 percent of respondents reporting it, followed by shoulders (33.8 percent), hand/wrist (32.7 percent) and elbow/forearm (16.7 percent), according to PT in Motion. Up to 91 percent of PTs will experience musculoskeletal pain in their lifetimes, the article said, so the study’s authors hope their findings can aid in the creation of clinical guidelines and interventions to prevent work-related pain.

Having to treat more than one patient at a time and working in a seated position each more than doubled the risk of PTs experiencing lower-back pain. In addition, those working more than 45 hours a week were 1.73 times more likely to experience lower-back pain than those working fewer than 35 hours per week, the article said. Longer work weeks also were associated with higher rates of upper-back pain, PT in Motion reported.

PTs who use exercise interventions as their primary treatment type had lower rates of neck pain than PTs whose primary treatment type was manual therapy. In addition, PTs who mostly used machines had higher rates of upper-back pain than those who primarily used manual or exercise therapy, according to the survey results.

PTs with six or more years of experience were less likely to have pain in many of the areas of the body studied than PTs with five or fewer years of experience, PT in Motion said. Focusing on pain in the lower back, the survey’s authors suggested four possible reasons why experienced PTs were suffering less:

● Better patient management skills
● Better injury prevention strategies, including the increased use of support staff
● Attrition since PTs who experience pain early in their careers often leave the field sooner than their healthier peers
● The possibility that experienced PTs develop a higher pain threshold due to higher work volume

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