Pain: it’s an occupational hazard for physical therapists. All the work required to help patients heal can, ironically, result in musculoskeletal for PTs, according to asurvey of physical therapists in Spain. The survey, reported byAPTA, found that about half of all respondents reported moderate-to-high levels oflow back pain in the last 30 days. What’s more, nearly three in five PTs had neck pain within that same period of time.
PTs who treated more than one patient at the same time were more than twice as likely to experience low back pain (LBP) as those treating individual patients. Working more than 45 hours per week and working in a seated position also increased the chances of experiencing LPB.
Exercise interventions as a treatment for neck pain appears to be more effective long-term than manual therapy for easing neck pain.
PTs who treated 30 or more patients a week reported a higher prevalence of shoulder pain than those with lighter patient loads.
More-experienced PTs (six to 15 years) were found to have lower chances of experiencing pain in the shoulder, low back, and elbow/forearm than their less-experienced counterparts who had spent five or fewer years on the job.
4 Reasons Why Experienced PTs May Suffer Less Pain
According to APTA, a recent systematic review predicts that up to 91% of PTs will experience musculoskeletal pain at some point. The authors of the Spanish survey provided four possible explanations for why more-experienced PTs reported few instances of pain, including:
Better skills in patient management
Better strategies for preventing injuries, such as modifying treatment techniques and ergonomics
Attrition, meaning PTs who experience pain early in their career leave sooner
More-experienced PTs may have a higher pain threshold due to a greater volume of work
Can You Exercise the Pain Away?
So, does this mean you have to be an old hand at PT to be pain-free? Of course not! The sooner you can start on a course of self-care, the better shape you’ll be in to cope with the physical—and mental—rigors of the PT profession. Ben Wobker, PT also linked the injuries to possible mentorship as a licensed physical therapist. Stating, “the PTs I have mentored over the years have really honed their manual skills in this dedicated one-on-one time. Clinics that do not offer mentoring are doing a disservice to their prospective patients, but also the longevity of their staff. Not only are your refining the intervention but also the set up which allows it to be repeatable and safe for both the patient and the clinician.”
Rebecca Mohan, SPT, a student at Northern Illinois University, is an advocate of self-care through exercise—starting in PT school. “If we as PT and PTA students continue to take care of our own mind, body, and spirit, we'll make it through this school experience healthy and ready to serve our profession and our patients,”she wrote. “For me, I've found maintaining a personal fitness routine during school has done wonders, despite being tired and exhausted. As experts in movement science, we know one thing to be true–if your body feels good and energetic then your intellectual and emotional self will follow.”