Alex Tauberg’s childhood swing set inspired him to become a chiropractor.

His dad injured his back while building the contraption and suffered in pain for years. It wasn’t until he bypassed his primary care physician and visited a physical therapist that he finally felt relief.

“You shouldn’t just live with the pain,” says Tauberg, who now runs a chiropractic practice in Fox Chapel. “You need to find someone who is qualified to deal with it, but that can be hard to do.”

Thanks to the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS), the search for back pain relief is about to get easier.

After two-and-a-half years of planning and research, the school launched the Primary Spine Practitioner Certification Program, an advanced course that trains licensed physical therapists and chiropractors to deliver specialized care to individuals with spinal disorders.

Tauberg is part of the 60-member inaugural class.

“Low back pain is an epidemic,” says Dr. Michael Schneider, program director. “It’s the third most costly condition in the U.S. after cancer and heart disease.”

Schneider, who is a chiropractor with a Ph.D. in rehabilitation sciences, says proper treatment is vital. And yet the primary care physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants who are at the front lines of back pain care don’t have the necessary training to treat it.

In our instant gratification culture, people want quick results, which often means prescription drugs, such as opiates, to manage pain — even though 80 to 90 percent of problems can be addressed with exercise and manipulation.

The yearlong course at Pitt is divided into five units of instruction, including online educational modules, weekend skill-building workshops and textbook studies. Students must pass quizzes following each module and ace unit tests. A final practical competency exam, which utilizes actors portraying patients, completes the course.

Bridgeside Point

University of Pittsburgh’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Department of Physical Therapy at Bridgeside Point. Photo by Wei-Neng Chuang.

Schneider says that one of the most unique units focuses on managing psycho-social factors and chronic pain. The lessons are co-taught by a chiropractor, a physical therapist and a psychologist who will address issues related to patients who are highly fearful of movement.

Pitt has already seen great interest in the new program. Registration filled up after only two hours and there are students who travel from as far away as Canada, England and Dubai to participate in the live coursework.

Although this is the first program of its kind in the country, Schneider hopes other universities will follow suit and develop their own rigorous courses.

“We are closed for registration,” he says, “until we can get another set of courses together and train more instructors.”