What does YouTube offer on pain education videos?

…and are those videos reliable?

What's new

  • Seven principles of neuroscientific pain education
  • Principles are rarely discussed
  • Increased popularity, but reliability hard to determine

YouTube offers of wide variety of pain education videos, but only few discuss at least one of the seven principles of neuroscientific pain education in a fascinating way. American and Australian researchers who analysed 106 YouTube videos conclude that more research is necessary to determine the clinical usability of these videos: what do patients learn from the videos and do they change their behaviour as a result?


Whether the videos are reliable and contain the right information is hard to determine. The origin of the videos was not always clear or hard to track down, and information about the creators of the videos was scarce. This makes it difficult to determine the reputation of the source. Fifteen percent of the videos was originally uploaded by an academic or medical research institute or an organisation of medical professionals, and almost twenty percent was posted by an individual health professional or researcher.

Interesting and informative

To qualify as an educational instrument, the videos must not only provide correct information, but also be interesting for the viewer. Researchers judged the videos themselves, but the number of views on YouTube also gave an indication. This shows that particularly animation videos are very popular. According to the researchers, the video ‘Tame The Beast – It’s time to rethink persistent pain’¹ did not only cover all seven principles, but was also very interesting. Besides that, the TED-Ed video ‘How does your brain respond to pain?’² scored high among researchers and viewers on YouTube. 

Clinically useful?

Although only one video covered all seven principles about pain education, videos that cover less aspects may be relevant if they address a specific gap in the knowledge of the patient. According to the scientists, the extent to which patients learn from the videos and modify their behaviour as a result should be further investigated.

Systematic review

The researchers conducted a sort of ‘systematic review’ of online videos. With predetermined search criteria, they searched for English spoken videos of ten minutes maximum, that provided information about the neuroscientific aspects of pain. Videos that exclusively addressed coping skills or treatments, or that did not provide any information about the role of the brain or the nervous system in pain sensation, were excluded.

> From: Heathcote, PeerJ 7 (2019) e6603 . All rights reserved to The Author(s). Click here for the online summary. Translation by Casper Martens

1. Tame The Beast - It's time to rethink persistent pain:

2. Karen D. Davis - How does your brain respond to pain?:

Expert opinion by John Bos, MSc.

This article is interesting because it provides insight in the available video material about pain education that is directly useful for daily practice. The videos are weighted to the seven principles of Pain Neuroscience Education (PNE). The name PNE has recently been changed to Pain Science Education (PSE). This change of name is a more nuanced representation of the fact that pain cannot be completely traced back to or does not fully equate with brain activity. Pain turns out to be a complex state of consciousness, an unpleasant feeling, with protection of the body as main purpose. It goes hand in hand with complex integrative biological (neural, endocrine and immunological) activity. Pain can not be understood from a purely neuroscientific perspective! 

Physiotherapists regularly spend time on (aspects of) pain education with patients who present with musculoskeletal pain complaints. Particularly in patients with persistent or chronic pain, but also in prevention of these conditions, pain education is regarded as a valuable therapy. Pain education is most commonly combined with exercise, so that patients gain positive movement experiences and experience physically that pain can be modulated and controlled. 

Pain education is not the goal, but rather a therapeutic tool that gets a prominent place in a larger therapeutic plan, most of the times in a therapeutic goal regarding pain reconceptualisation. In pain reconceptualisation, three themes are important: 

  1. Pain is a relative unreliable indicator for what is going on pathoanatomically or pathophysiologically (damage) – pain is strongly context dependent and influenced by expectations (previous experiences and concepts) – “there must be something wrong with my back, because it hurts.”
  2. Pain as a protective function of the body: pain can get an overprotective character and result in the feeling that anatomically or physiologically, something is wrong and needs protection – “it feels like something is broken or wrong in my back because this is the umpteenth time I pulled my back.”
  3. Bioplasticity of pain: plasticity allows pain to biologically (yet subconsciously) grow in a person and result in persistent or chronic pain – utilising the same plasticity, that same person can grow out of pain or the pain can at least become controllable and manageable. 

Unfortunately, this article shows that exactly those last two topics are underexposed in the video material available up to now. 

Let us know what you think about the summary

Signup for our weekly or monthly newsletter and get notified on updates on the themes you're interested in:

Please enable the javascript to submit this form

Anatomy & Physiotherapy is a joint venture
between SoPhy & Sharing Science

Summaries on Physiotherapy B.V.
Berkenweg 7
Postbus 1161
3800 BD Amersfoort
The Netherlands

Chamber of commerce: 74973738
Bank: NL72ABNA0849809959
V.A.T. number: NL860093530B01

Sharing Science
Rijksweg Zuid 99
6134 AA Sittard
The Netherlands
Chamber of Commerce: 58306862