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Physical Therapists in Pain

PT, Heal Thyself
By Lily Beltran
Physical Therapists in Pain

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 a survey of physical therapists in Spain. The survey, reported by APTA, found that about half of all respondents reported moderate-to-high levels of low back pain in the last 30 days. What’s more, nearly three in five PTs had neck pain within that same period of time.

Some of the findings include:

  • In addition to low back and neck pain, a significant percentage of respondents also reported pain in the upper back, shoulders, hand/wrist, and elbow/forearm.
  • 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:

  1. Better skills in patient management
  2. Better strategies for preventing injuries, such as modifying treatment techniques and ergonomics
  3. Attrition, meaning PTs who experience pain early in their career leave sooner
  4. 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.” 

Luna’s physical therapists are experts at self-care. They know that to deliver exceptional on-demand physical therapy to their patients, they need to take time to reinvigorate their mind, body, and spirit. Ready to take better care of yourself? Start by owning your career with Luna!

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