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Pain Science, Innovation, and the Future of Physiotherapy
By: Nataliya Zlotnikov, MSc, HBSc

What Does the Future of Physiotherapy Hold? Are You an Optimist?

Where do you think we are headed as a profession? Do you lean to the optimistic side? Or would you say we missed the boat and are now on a sinking ship?

Grab a cup of your favourite beverage and join us for a fascinating conversation about the future of physiotherapy and much more with physiotherapist-researchers Dave Walon and Jim Elliot.

Dave Walton is an Associate Professor in the School of Physical Therapy and Director of the Pain and Quality of Life Integrative Research Lab.

James "Jim" Elliot is a Professor at The University of Sydney, Faculty of Health and Medicine, School of Health Sciences, investigating head/neck trauma and recovery. A detailed bio on both the instructors can be found at the end of the blog. 

What else can be found at the end of the blog? A snippet discussing the future of physiotherapy from today's online healthcare course, Pain Science, Innovation and The Future of Physiotherapy. 


Click Here for the Full Course


Topics of Discussion Include: 

  • What are the critical knowledge, skills, and behaviours clinicians should be focusing on that will be important in the future?
  • What is new in the field of whiplash and trauma?
  • Fascinating up-and-coming research in pain science, whiplash and trauma.
  • How do you think we can get primary care practitioners and insurance companies to move away from pathoanatomical diagnosis as the primary approach for MSK patients?
  • How do you explain pain science to patients?
  • What does the future of physiotherapy hold?

Does Everybody Get Better Following Whiplash?

As clinicians we are quite good at identifying risk factors and developing some confidences as to what trajectories our patient might be on, fully realizing that these trajectories are not fixed. But despite being aware of risk factors for a good recovery, so many clinicians still feel that we do not have the tools or resources to help all these patients to recover. 

Dave and Jim discussed a beautiful RCT from Sterling et al., (2019). In this paper, the physiotherapists were taught to provide psychological interventions. The paper demonstrated that if we identify persons who are at a high risk of a poor outcome and then provide risk-targeted interventions, these high-risk people get better.

How Do You Explain Pain Science to Your Patients?

How do you explain pain science to your patients? Many of us know from experience that this is no easy feat.

The world of pain right now is flying off in so many different directions: Genomics, proteomics, transcriptomics, imaging, engineering, big data, neuroscience, the list goes on. It is quite the challenge to keep on top of all these discrete directions. 

Lucky you for us we may not have to!

In their paper, Dave and Jim tried to boil all this disparate information on social determinants, emotions, cognitions, central neuroplastic change, and peripheral change, down and then used it to create a diagrammatic representation that can be applied as a  great communication tool to be used with your patients. 

In their paper, A New Clinical Model for Facilitating the Development of Pattern Recognition Skills in Clinical Pain Assessment, they ventured to create a new clinical reasoning framework that is simple in presentation but allows interpretation of complex clinical patterns, and is adaptable across patient populations with acute or chronic, traumatic or non-traumatic pain.

7-Point Radar Plot

The tool they created is known as the 7-Point Radar Plot and can be found on the PIRL website along with many other free clinician resources.

If you would like to learn more about how to use the plot but may not have access to their publications, take a look at the YouTube video in which Dave introduces the concepts of the radar plot and triangulation for creating a comprehensive pain profile for patients.

Click Here for the Full Course


The Future of Physiotherapy

Learn More 

If you would like to read more about pain science, take a look at our blog, Stop Thought Viruses With Pain Science to Improve Patient Outcomes, to learn more about Dr. Erson Religioso's Eclectic Approach to Modern Manual Therapy.

We also invite you to take a look at a few more of our pain sciences online healthcare courses such as:  


May your future, and the future of the rehab professions be bright!



Sterling M., Smeets, R., Keijzers, G., Warren, J. and Kenardy, J. (2019). Physiotherapist-delivered stress inoculation training integrated with exercise versus physiotherapy exercise alone for acute whiplash-associated disorder (StressModex): a randomised controlled trial of a combined psychological/physical intervention. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53: 1240-47. DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-100139

Walton, D.M. and Elliott, J.M. (2018). A new clinical model for facilitating the development of pattern recognition skills in clinical pain assessment. Musculoskeletal Science and Practice, 36: 17-24.
DOI: 10.1016/j.msksp.2018.03.006.

Dave Walton

Following a 10-year clinical career, Dave completed his PhD at Western University (London Ontario) in 2010 where he is now Associate Professor in the School of Physical Therapy and Director of the Pain and Quality of Life Integrative Research Lab, Honorary Associate Professor with the Discipline of Physiotherapy at the University of Sydney, and Associate Editor of the scientific journal Musculoskeletal Science and Practice.

He is the Principal Investigator on a number of large-scale initiatives including the SYMBIOME acute trauma recovery cohort study and the Physio Moves Canada qualitative exploration of threats, opportunities, and innovations for physiotherapy practice in Canada. Having authored or co-authored over 100 peer-reviewed publications, he is recognized for expertise in measuring, predicting, and preventing chronic pain and the role of trauma and stress in the experiences of pain, mobility, and quality of life.

Jim Elliott

Jim completed his PhD at the University of Queensland, Australia (UQ) in 2007 and a post-doctoral fellowship (2010) also at UQ (CCRE-Spine).

He is currently a Professor of Allied Health in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney and the Northern Sydney Local Health District. Prior to this, Jim was a tenure-track Associate Professor in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, USA, where he remains an adjunct Professor and Principal Investigator of the Neuromuscular Imaging Research Laboratory.


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