Listening is therapy: Patient interviewing from a pain science perspective

Physiother Theory Pract. 2016 Jul;32(5):356-67. doi: 10.1080/09593985.2016.1194648. Epub 2016 Jun 28.


The interview of a patient attending physical therapy is the cornerstone of the physical examination, diagnosis, plan of care, prognosis, and overall efficacy of the therapeutic experience. A thorough, skilled interview drives the objective tests and measures chosen, as well as provides context for the interpretation of those tests and measures, during the physical examination. Information from the interview powerfully influences the treatment modalities chosen by the physical therapist (PT) and thus also impacts the overall outcome and prognosis of the therapy sessions. Traditional physical therapy focuses heavily on biomedical information to educate people about their pain, and this predominant model focusing on anatomy, biomechanics, and pathoanatomy permeates the interview and physical examination. Although this model may have a significant effect on people with acute, sub-acute or postoperative pain, this type of examination may not only gather insufficient information regarding the pain experience and suffering, but negatively impact a patient's pain experience. In recent years, physical therapy treatment for pain has increasingly focused on pain science education, with increasing evidence of pain science education positively affecting pain, disability, pain catastrophization, movement limitations, and overall healthcare cost. In line with the ever-increasing focus of pain science in physical therapy, it is time for the examination, both subjective and objective, to embrace a biopsychosocial approach beyond the realm of only a biomedical approach. A patient interview is far more than "just" collecting information. It also is a critical component to establishing an alliance with a patient and a fundamental first step in therapeutic neuroscience education (TNE) for patients in pain. This article highlights the interview process focusing on a pain science perspective as it relates to screening patients, establishing psychosocial barriers to improvement, and pain mechanism assessment.

Keywords: Interview; neuroscience; pain; pain education; physical therapy; therapeutic relationship.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic*
  • Pain / diagnosis
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain / psychology
  • Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires