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Neurophysiological predictors of response to exercise in people with low back pain

Project Description

Globally, low back pain (LBP) is the leading cause of ‘years lived with disability’ and is a massive health problem worldwide. Exercise is the most effective form of treatment for the management of LBP, yet it still delivers only small to moderate treatment effects which are rarely long-lasting. Better clinical outcomes could be achieved by specifically targeting each individual’s impairment. This project aims to define predictors that can identify individuals with chronic LBP who are likely to benefit from exercise training. This project will involve prospectively following participants with chronic LBP for over a year. The predictive value of a number of neurophysiological tests including regional lumbar muscle activity distribution (using high-density electromyography) and corticospinal excitability (using transcranial magnetic stimulation) will be assessed before and after a physiotherapist-supervised exercise programme. This interdisciplinary project brings together areas of Physiotherapy and Neurosciences, and it requires previous experience in the collection, analysis and interpretation of surface electromyographic data. The ideal candidate will also have a clinical background and previous experience with the analysis of complex datasets with Matlab.

Informal enquiries are advised and should be directed to Dr Alessio Gallina ()

Funding Notes

Applicants should have a strong background in Physiotherapy, Neuroscience or Rehabilitation Sciences. Working experience in a research setting, particularly running studies on humans is required, as well as a commitment and strong interest in interdisciplinary research, be motivated and be prepared to work independently. Applicants should hold or expect to obtain at least an MSc in a relevant subject. An MRes would be preferable.

Funding: This scholarship is funded by the University of Birmingham.


Falla D, Hodges PW. Individualized Exercise Interventions for Spinal Pain. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2017;(45)2:105–15. doi: 10.1249/JES.0000000000000103
Falla D, Gizzi L, Tschapek M, Erlenwein J, Petzke F. Reduced task-induced variations in the distribution of activity across back muscle regions in individuals with low back pain. Pain. 2014;155(5):944–53. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2014.01.027
Falla D, O’Leary S, Farina D, Jull G. The change in deep cervical flexor activity after training is associated with the degree of pain reduction in patients with chronic neck pain. Clin J Pain. 2012;28(7):628–634. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0b013e31823e9378
Gallina A, Peters S, Neva JL, Boyd LA, Garland SJ. Selectivity of conventional electrodes for recording motor evoked potentials: An investigation with high-density surface electromyography. Muscle Nerve. 2017;55(6):828–834. doi: 10.1002/mus.25412
Gallina A, Botter A. Spatial localization of electromyographic amplitude distributions associated to the activation of dorsal forearm muscles. Front Physiol. 2013;4:367. doi:10.3389/fphys.2013.00367
Schabrun SM, Elgueta-Cancino EL, Hodges PW. Smudging of the Motor Cortex Is Related to the Severity of Low Back Pain. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2017;42(15):1172-1178. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0000000000000938.

Ferreira PH, Ferreira ML, Maher CG, Refshauge K, Herbert RD, Hodges PW. Changes in recruitment of transversus abdominis correlate with disability in people with chronic low back pain. Br J Sports Med. 2010;44(16):1166–1172. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2009.061515

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Sport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 34.40

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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