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Physiotherapy pain curricula in Finland: a faculty survey

Jolanda Ehrström, Jyrki Kettunen and Petri Salo


Background and aims

Despite the recognition of pain as a global health problem and advancements achieved in what is known about effective pain management, pain education for undergraduate health care professionals remains insufficient. This study investigated the content of pain curricula and the time allocated to pain education on physiotherapy programs at bachelor’s level at Universities of Applied Sciences (UASs) in Finland.


A web-based survey questionnaire was sent to the directors of the physiotherapy programs at all the Finnish UASs (n=15) where physiotherapy is taught at bachelor’s level. The questionnaire consisted of 14 questions covering basic concepts and the science of pain, pain assessment, pain management, and the adequacy of pain curricula. Each UAS completed one questionnaire i.e. returned one official opinion.


The response rate was 80% (n=12). The mean for the total number of contact hours of pain education was 74 (standard deviation 34.2). All UASs had integrated pain education. In addition to this 42% (n=5) of the UASs had a separate pain course. The UASs offering such a course over and above the integrated pain education had twice the amount of pain content education compared to those UASs that only had integrated pain education (mean 103 h vs. 53 h, p=0.0043). Most of the education was devoted to conditions where pain is commonly a feature, manual therapy, and electrical agents for pain control. The biopsychosocial model of pain, cognitive behavioral methods of pain management, physician management, and multidisciplinary management were the least covered topics. Five UASs (42%) payed attention to the International Association for the Study of Pain curriculum outline and only 33% (n=4) considered their pain education to be sufficient.


Our results indicate that more contact hours are devoted to pain education on the Finnish UASs’ physiotherapy programs at bachelor’s level, than has previously been reported in faculty surveys. A separate pain course is one way to ensure a sufficient amount of pain education. Overall, despite a sufficient time devoted to pain education, some essential pain contents were inadequately covered.


The study contributes information on how pain education can be organized on physiotherapy programs at undergraduate level. Besides a sufficient amount of pain education, which can be ensured by a separate pain course, attention should be paid to pain education content being up-to-date. This could help in estimating the different proportions of pain content needed in educational settings. Efforts should also be made at keeping integrated pain education well-coordinated and purposeful. There is a need for further research estimating the effectiveness of pain education according to the different ways in which it is organized. There is also a need to investigate whether more hours allocated to pain education results in better understanding and professional skills.


The authors would like to thank Professor Sluka for permission to use and adapt the questionnaire developed by Hoeger Bement and Sluka [12] for research purposes in Finland.

  1. Authors’ statements

  2. Research funding: None.

  3. Conflict of interest: The authors report no conflicts of interest.

  4. Informed consent: Research permission was received from the Universities of Applied Sciences in Finland in October 2017.

  5. Ethical approval: This study was granted ethical approval by The Research Ethics Board of Åbo Akademi University, Vaasa, Finland, in August 2017.

  6. Author contributions

  7. JE contributed to the design of the study, data collection, data analysis, discussed the results, and drafted the manuscript. JK contributed to the design of the study, data analysis, discussed the results, and commented on the manuscript. PS discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.


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Received: 2018-05-18
Revised: 2018-05-29
Accepted: 2018-05-30
Published Online: 2018-06-27
Published in Print: 2018-10-25

©2018 Scandinavian Association for the Study of Pain. Published by Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston. All rights reserved.