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Pain responses in athletic populations (Ref: SF20/SER/THORNTON)

Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

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Dr C Thornton Applications accepted all year round Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Athletes are able to tolerate more pain than non-athletes. Furthermore, those who are routinely exposed to pain during sport (e.g. contact athletes, endurance athletes) exhibit more adaptive responses to pain than other athlete groups; they tend to find pain less intense and bothersome; they can tolerate more pain; and are they are typically able to demonstrate relatively little loss of either motor or cognitive performance when a painful stimulus is presented. There has been little research however into the psychological processes that underlie these adaptive responses to pain in these athlete groups.
The project would aim to define a series of studies examining pain responses/behaviours in different populations that together would provide a deeper understanding of the processes underpinning the reduced impact of pain within particular groups. The primary focus may be on responses to pain associated with contact within sport, or extreme fatigue/exertion amongst endurance athletes, or responses to injury and rehabilitation.
Possible areas for exploration include key psychological aspects of responses to pain such as coping style; challenge and threat perception; cognitive interference; association/dissociation; bothersomeness; pain self-efficacy; and motivation. In addition, there is scope to examine the attentional demands of pain during performance, conditioned pain modulation and psycho-physiological responses to pain.
By developing an understanding of the mechanisms behind adaptive pain behaviours, interventions can be designed to foster positive pain responses and enhance performance, which may be relevant not only to athletes but to clinical populations. Reducing the impact of pain associated with exercise and/or contact sport may also improve exercise capacity and sports participation within the wider population. This could provide a subsequent beneficial impact upon health, wellbeing and overall quality of life.

Eligibility and How to Apply:
Please note eligibility requirement:
• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g., SF20/…) will not be considered.
Deadline for applications: Open
Start Date: October 2020 or March 2021
Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality.

For Further details, please contact Dr Claire Thornton ([Email Address Removed])

Funding Notes

Please note, this is a self-funded project and does not include tuition fees or stipend; the studentship is available to Students Worldwide. Fee bands are available at . A relevant fee band will be discussed at interview based on project running costs


Thornton, C., Sheffield, D. & Baird, A. (2018). Motor performance during experimental pain: The influence of exposure to contact sports. European Journal of Pain, 1-11, DOI: 10.1002/ejp.1370
Thornton, C., Sheffield, D., Baird, A. (2017). A longitudinal exploration of pain tolerance and participation in contact sports. Scandinavian Journal of Pain, 16, 36-44. doi: 10.1016/j.sjpain.2017.02.007

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