2016 – the year for managing back pain

2 February 2016

Professor Paul HodgesA major program of work approaching the treatment and management of back pain and osteoarthritis from all angles is being led by Professor Paul Hodges with the help of an $8.8 million NHMRC Program grant.

Prof Hodges, who is an NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow and the Director of the NHMRC Centre for Clinical Research Excellence in Spinal Pain, Injury and Health (CCRE SPINE) at The University of Queensland, will work with colleagues at the University of Melbourne and University of Sydney.

Along with a $926,980 NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellowship, which also runs from 2016-2020, this program of work expands on Paul’s extensive body of research and practice in back pain management.

The 1994 Menzies Allied Health Research Scholar, Paul has PhDs in physiotherapy and neuroscience and has maintained a long-term passion for better understanding the management of pain, which is evident when he talks about his work.

“Our team has shown that physiotherapy interventions, such as exercise, are effective for managing many musculoskeletal pain conditions. These treatments can be more effective than drugs or surgery and should be used first, before rushing off for surgery or joint replacement

“One of the most exciting things we’ve identified is changes in the nervous system; the brain reconfigures itself in response to pain, but this adaptation differs between individuals. For example, for many the nervous system adapts to protect the body but this becomes problematic in the long term.

“Back pain is a common condition with many different mechanisms and everyone is different, so some of the work we are doing is to determine which interventions are appropriate for different types of people. Some people benefit from physical approaches, whereas others benefit from interventions that target psychology and behaviour change.

“So we will approach this from all angles and we have a number of different projects and experiments running looking at brain changes, mechanics, inflammatory responses – and innovative ways to tackle these persistent problems. This is research which will change practice.”

Paul also says that one of his aims is to de-medicalise back pain. “90 per cent of people will have back pain at some stage – it is a natural part of life and it will resolve in most cases.

“Society has made it an important focus. A lot of people medicalise the problem. We want to work towards educating people with tools that help them understand how to manage it.”

To that end Paul and his team are also working with Arthritis Australia to develop online resources to help people with managing their osteoarthritis and back pain.

Keep a close eye on this program of work, which is bound to have universal application.

Tags: Menzies Scholar Allied Health