The Monday Memo
November 12th, 2018 PITT DPT STUDENTS
Asian Immigrants: View on Physical Therapy
Being a first generation Chinese American, my parents didn’t really have an opportunity to attend college. They hail from a small, rural town in China where education was not stressed. When they came to America, they made it a goal for my brother and I to attend college no matter the cost. Due to their lack of education, they were required to work long hours at a family owned business to provide for us.
22 years later, and unsurprisingly they suffer from chronic lower extremity joint pain. As a student of physical therapy, I feel it is my moral obligation to urge them to try it. But they prefer their traditional oriental medicine, while remaining stoic and suffering through the pain. If the traditional oriental medicines worked, I would have no problem with it, but usually these treatments only aim to treat symptoms and not the underlying pathological problem. Much like my parents, many Asian immigrants also suffer from some sort of chronic pain Approximately 70% to 80% of people have chronic pain in the Asian geriatric population, compared to 50% to 55% in Western countries. Most studies report that this population in particular are Asians with low education.
Most Asian immigrants view healing as a spiritual process. That, along with a language barrier and decreased access to health insurance, is the reason why physical therapy services are underutilized among the Asian American community. Most families are reluctant to pay out of pocket for health services unless it is deemed completely necessary to live. Sadly, Asian immigrants are one of the largest populations that suffer from chronic pain.
Asian culture relies heavily on the belief of prestige. They view clinicians as an individual of high social status. This can serve as a barrier because, due to their culture, they will often try their hardest not to bother their clinician with their problems if they are not urgent. This means that if a PT were to treat an Asian American, the patient would downplay their symptoms, or would report exaggerated improvements in order to satisfy the physical therapist. This, in turn, causes decreased value of PT services because there is no actual improvement within the patient population.
One of the reasons I decided to pursue a career in physical therapy was to advocate for the benefits that physical therapy provides, especially for most Asian immigrants who, like my parents, suffer from chronic pain due to their strenuous occupations. Every time I learn a new treatment in class, I always think to myself: “Can this be used to help my parents deal with their pain?”. I believe as more Asian immigrants migrate to America, we need to advocate for them to utilize physical therapy services for pain management and to increase their overall quality of life.
-Sam Yip, SPT
Tung, W.-C., & Li, Z. (2015). Pain Beliefs and Behaviors Among Chinese. Home Health Care
Management & Practice, 27(2), 95–97. https://doi.org/10.1177/1084822314547962
Zaki, L. R., & Hairi, N. N. (2015). A Systematic Review of the Prevalence and Measurement of
Chronic Pain in Asian Adults. Pain Management Nursing, 16(3), 440-452.