Physiotherapy has a vital role in helping patients manage and overcome musculoskeletal pain. Healthcare providers’ beliefs about pain are associated with the beliefs of their patients. This study evaluated the attitudes, beliefs and level of pain neuroscience knowledge among Israeli Bachelor-level physiotherapy students.
First-year (n = 29, before pain course), second-year (n = 28, immediately after pain course and before clinical placements), and fourth-year (n = 28, post-clinical placements) physiotherapy students completed the Health Care Providers’ Pain and Impairment Relationship Scale (HC-PAIRS, range 15–105, lower scores indicate a more positive attitude) to assess pain attitudes and beliefs. The Neurophysiology of Pain Questionnaire (NPQ, range 0–19, higher scores indicate more pain-related knowledge) was also completed to measure pain neuroscience knowledge. Two separate one-way ANOVAs with post hoc analyses were used to compare HC-PAIRS and NPQ results between the three groups of students. Pearson correlations were determined between HC-PAIRS and NPQ.
HC-PAIRS scores of the first-year students were significantly higher than those of second- and fourth-year students (p = 0.011, p < 0.001, respectively), with no difference between second- and fourth-year students; indicating that first-year students had less-positive attitudes toward the ability of individuals with musculoskeletal pain to function. Similarly, NPQ scores showed that first-year students differed from second- and fourth-year students (p < 0.001, p < 0.001, respectively). The HC-PAIRS and NPQ correlation among the fourth-year students yielded a moderately negative association (r = − 0.462, p = 0.01), indicating that pain neuroscience knowledge was associated with less belief that chronic pain justifies disability.
A specific curriculum about pain during physiotherapy undergraduate education contributes to a more positive evidenced-based attitude to musculoskeletal pain and patient function. The association between pain neuroscience knowledge and positive attitudes and beliefs regarding pain were enhanced after clinical placements, demonstrating that learning improves when integrated into practice. Due to the impact of pain training and the expected benefits to patient care, health policy decision makers and educators should verify that the pain curriculum is current with the best research evidence. Future studies with larger samples that include students from other healthcare disciplines, including medicine are warranted.