What Is a Pain Specialist Physiotherapist & How Is This Different to MSK Physiotherapy?
Persistent pain (also known as chronic pain) is a specialist area/field in healthcare, it’s an area that I have specialised in and wanted to share a little on what this means. A little background on physiotherapy training, following completion of a physiotherapy degree physiotherapists take different paths, traditionally this always started with a junior rotational post in a hospital. This now varies, on graduating a physiotherapist may start work as a junior rotational physiotherapist working in different areas within a hospital, or they may start working as a junior therapist within a community therapy team, or they may go straight into private practice on a graduate development program, usually this is within musculoskeletal physiotherapy. Some physios work generically and others specialise in one area or a few areas, doing additional training and having the appropriate level of support and experience to develop a specialism, which is always ongoing. Physiotherapists work in many areas, here are some of them: musculoskeletal (MSK), respiratory, cardiac rehab, neurology, paediatrics, care of the elderly, falls, learning disability, mental health, persistent pain, ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome), long covid and palliative care.
Pain specialist physiotherapists have done additional in-depth training on top of their degree and usually have experience in a variety of areas. Additional training includes exploring pain neuroscience more in-depth than at undergraduate level, psychologically informed practice training (includes integrating the core principles from, such as, acceptance and commitment therapy, compassion focused therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy), other pain related training and other related training including coaching. They keep up to date with the evidence base on pain and understand the many myths that exist within healthcare and society about pain and the impacts of these. Pain physios usually have many years experience of helping people learn to live well with pain and change pain too. They value, listen and learn from the lived experience of those they work with and the wider lived experience community.
Pain physiotherapists use a whole person centred biopsychosocial model (many use a biopsychosocial-spiritual approach – this includes what’s meaningful and gives purpose) and take a holistic/integrative approach to care. We aim to understand the whole person and their world and hold a compassionate non-judgmental space for understanding and hearings someones story/journey and to support exploration. We encourage people to build compassionate self-awareness and to hold a curiosity and a willingness to explore what may be helpful and supportive for them. Pain physiotherapists aim to empower people, for example, to be able to engage in what’s meaningful and develop a set of strategies to help manage and change pain. We help people to be able to fully engage with life again and what’s most meaningful. We work closely with other professionals involved in someone’s care, such as a psychologist and occupational therapist.
Pain physiotherapists understand that pain is complex and multi-faceted and that’s linked to the fact human beings are complex, this is why we have often done a variety of training exploring the different areas of being human. Each pain specialist physio works by integrating all their knowledge and skills in a way that is blended with the knowledge, skills and experiences of each person they are working with, creating individualised care. Each pain physiotherapist works a little differently as they integrate their knowledge, unique skill set and experiences into their work. No one therapist has the same knowledge, skills and clinical experience, just as no-one person is exactly the same. It is important to mention that we all follow the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) guidelines and those of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). When using knowledge and skills that don’t class as physiotherapy (according to what is set out by the CSP), we adhere to the best practice within those professional guidelines as well.
How To know if Someone Has the Relevant Knowledge, Skills & Experience?
Read what qualifications, training & experience they have on their website and if it’s not available to read on there its ok (and I would recommend it) to ask. It is ok to ask what someones experience and background is. Some therapists will offer a free short call, I do this, one reason being it helps people decide if working with them feels potentially helpful.
My Knowledge, Skills & Experience In Persistent Pain
Following my junior rotations in a hospital I chose to specialise in neurology and persistent pain and over the years have done many trainings, lots of reading, had support from more experienced clinicians and worked with many people with persistent pain. I have worked in chronic pain for over 14 years, in the last 3-4 years I’ve stopped my neurology work and transferred this specialism to being a special interest in working with people with ME/CFS, long covid and PoTS, alongside still working with people with persistent pain. One of my roles has been working as an advanced practitioner physiotherapist in pain, I did this for 4 years alongside my private work.
Here’s some of my training:
BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy
Life coaching qualification
NLP practitioner training
Yoga teacher training (200hr)
80hr trauma-informed yoga and embodied resilience course
Two weekend yoga courses for physios taught by physios who are yoga teachers
8 week psychologically informed practice course with the Physiotherapy Pain Association
Compassion focused therapy (CFT) for healthcare professionals 2 day course
8 weeks CFT training
A few different ACT courses up to intermediate level
Pain coaching course
Explain pain course
Graded motor imagery course
Functional nutrition & chronic pain certification
The above list is a small percentage of the training I have done, there has been a lot more training and reading over the years in addition to what is listed above. There is other training related to the special interests I have in ME/CFS, long covid and PoTS, and the yoga and coaching parts of my work.
Remember Chronic Pain/Persistent Pain Is a Specialist Area
Chronic pain/persistent pain is a specialist area and it it important that when people are struggling with persistent pain that they see clinician(s)/therapist(s) who have knowledge, skills and experience in this area. Persistent pain includes many diagnoses including fibromyalgia, chronic low back pain, chronic headaches, CRPS, and many others.
This wasn’t the easiest thing to explain in a short (ish) blog post but hopefully it makes sense and you can see the value in seeing a pain specialist physiotherapist or an MSK physio with a special interest in persistent pain. Remember it’s ok to ask what someones background and experience is in working in chronic pain.
If you need help with persistent pain and would like to see if I can help please get in touch to book a free 15 minute call to discuss.