Reinventing Pain Care
As a physical therapist and the founder of the Integrative Pain Science Institute, Joe Tatta, PT, DPT, CNS, is on a mission to help individuals experiencing pain by treating the body, mind and spirit. A New York native who describes himself as “someone who values innovation and change, and is always asking how we can improve the delivery of healthcare,” Dr. Tatta knows there’s a better way to treat pain. His approach has been informed and inspired by a variety of people and experiences, but a defining example was the one set by his mom, a retired nurse who worked at an adolescent cancer care center for many years.
As a young boy, Dr. Tatta witnessed his mom take control of her health, and her life, by changing her eating habits, taking up an exercise program, learning to manage stress and anxiety, and making a career change. Without the use of medication, she took control of her health, and her life, and it made a deep and lasting impression.
Moving toward a medical profession with a health and wellness component
As a young boy, Dr. Tatta read the medical journals that were sent to their home. He was fascinated by the information, yet fully aware that wearing a white lab coat and writing prescriptions was not going to be his path. He had always had in interest in the physical body, how it performs, and how to optimize it. A natural athlete, he started gymnastics at the age of three, and although he played other sports through the years, gymnastics was his mainstay. “Gymnastics was a big influence on me as far as pursuing physical therapy, and there’s actually a little bit of mindfulness built into the sport, too,” he says. It eventually became clear that physical therapy was ideal—a medical profession with a health and wellness component.
After graduating from the physical therapy program at the State University of New York, Health Science Center in Brooklyn, Dr. Tatta worked for two years in an inpatient adult rehabilitation clinic where he saw patients with a variety of conditions including spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, neurological conditions and amputations. He then accepted a position at a physical therapy clinic in New York City that specialized in the performing arts, where he worked with dancers.
Seeking a new model of care
His early work experiences provided Dr. Tatta with a vision for a model of care that he wanted to deliver, which inspired him to collaborate with two other physical therapists and open their own clinic, Premier Physical Therapy and Wellness. “There was an older kind of physical therapy model out there, and we were interested in pursuing newer, more modern models of treatment and interventions for care,” says Dr. Tatta. With an interest in systems and a desire to affect change, he and his business partners opened over a dozen locations in 15 years.
Moving toward integrative pain care
During this time, Dr. Tatta was recognizing the high number of patients who were struggling with chronic pain, while learning how to run a group of successful clinics, but some of the most formative lessons were ones taught outside the clinic doors. After getting hooked on yoga classes, Dr. Tatta became a self-described yogi, learning meditation in the process. This led to mindfulness classes, and eventually he was introduced to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a science-backed approach to treating physical and psychological pain through mindfulness, meditation and other non-pharmaceutical practices.
He also studied nutrition and other alternative and complementary forms of care, as well as Pilates. “The thing about Pilates that interested me was how you can use the equipment to help facilitate movement and to help people who have challenges moving,” he says. “In fact, some of Joseph Pilates’ early work was on people who were in hospital beds. It’s really an ideal method for rehabilitation,” Joe says.
Sharing a new approach to treating pain
When he and his colleagues decided to exit the business and move on to other endeavors, Dr. Tatta decided to focus on writing a book that he had been contemplating. The result was the publication of Heal Your Pain Now, a book that shows how to take an integrative approach to treating pain using exercise, nutrition and the mind. He received a great deal of positive feedback from readers, including other practitioners who wanted to know more about implementing an integrative approach to pain.
These conversations set off a strong desire to address some of the major challenges in the physical therapy world, including how to train professionals about psychologically informed care and how to integrate pain care and other aspects of care like nutrition, supplements and mindfulness and acceptance-based interventions into physical therapy treatment. The result was the Integrative Pain Science Institute, which Dr. Tatta founded in 2016 in order to teach new biopsychosocial pain treatment methods to other practitioners.
Helping people take meaningful, purposeful action
In 2020 Dr. Tatta published his second book, Radical Relief: A Guide to Overcome Chronic Pain. The book introduces readers to ACT and mindfulness, and includes more than 40 cognitive exercises, along with metaphors and colorful imagery to help readers take purposeful action toward a more meaningful life—providing a safe and effective alternative to common pain treatments.
In addition to his books, Dr. Tatta has a podcast that focuses on many healthcare topics, including pain care. “We’re reading the research, but practices aren’t changing as rapidly as we need,” says Dr. Tatta. “So, I look at my platform, including the Integrative Pain Science Institute and my podcast, as a public service announcement for people with pain, as well as practitioners. I’m saying, ‘here’s what we know. Let’s share the information and then let’s start to take action on it so we reinvent how we deliver pain care.’”