This is an exciting, interdisciplinary project that brings together social science, data science and engineering, and will give the student invaluable skills for a career in academia or the medical technology sector.
Nearly 19 million people in the UK live with arthritis or a musculoskeletal (MSK) condition (1). These conditions are well known to greatly impact at both a personal level (e.g. higher levels of pain, fatigue, lower quality of life) and societal level (e.g., health care costs, work impairment/absence). Access to non-pharmacological interventions, such as physical activity programmes, is paramount for reducing symptoms and improving outcomes for individuals with arthritis/MSK conditions.
The Arthritis Foundation’s (USA) Walk With Ease programme is a 6-week community-based walking programme. It is unique in that it is the only evidence-based walking programme identified by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as appropriate for individuals with arthritis (2). A recent feasibility study funded by Versus Arthritis conducted at the University of Aberdeen (CI: Martin) supports the use of Walk With Ease in a UK context (3). Whilst the programme improves balance, pain, mental well-being and overall physical health, little is known about the biomechanical changes that occur as a result of this intervention and how these might be correlated with physical performance measurements and patient reported outcomes.
This PhD project will increase our understanding of the mechanisms behind observed health improvements associated with this walking programme and enable the design of optimised programmes for people with different musculoskeletal conditions if warranted. This PhD project will also provide an understanding of whether it can be offered as optimised prehabilitation to patients seeking surgical intervention for their arthritis or musculoskeletal condition.
Therefore, this project specifically aims to:
- Quantify physical changes (e.g., gait, posture, flexibility) through measurement of joint angles and muscle activity, and correlate with perceived improvements in physical health and emotional well-being across a range of musculoskeletal conditions (Study 1).
- Pilot the use of this community-based walking programme for prehabilitation to compare surgical outcomes for those who do and do not undertake the programme alongside usual care (Study 2).
Following an initial review of the literature, gaining ethical permissions, orientation and training in the laboratory, the student (for Study 1) will use mixed methods (i.e. questionnaire and interview) to assess and explore the patients’ perception of general and arthritis/MSK-related health, physical functioning, social engagement, and emotional well-being before and after the programme. The student will also engage in time series data collection, processing and analysis of physiological signals such as electromyography to quantify physical changes. For Study 2, the student will explore the process (e.g. feasibility of methods and procedures) and observed effects needed to carry out a larger-scale investigation.
The student will be housed within the Centre for Academic Primary Care. The lead supervisor, Dr Kathryn Martin, has extensive experience in the study of physical activity, arthritis and musculoskeletal disease. The student will also be supported by Dr Dimitra Blana, Lecturer in Health Data Science with expertise in movement data analysis, and Dr Edward Chadwick, Reader in Bioengineering, an expert in the use of medical devices for measuring movement and muscle activity.
The successful applicant will have experience in a related discipline (for example sport and exercise science, epidemiology, psychology/health behaviour, health data science, biomedical engineering). Quantitative research methods experience is essential and experience with qualitative research methods desirable. Previous experience in the field of arthritis/musculoskeletal disease, pain, or sport an exercise would be an advantage.
This project is advertised in relation to the research areas of APPLIED HEALTH SCIENCE. Formal applications can be completed online: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/pgap/login.php
. You should apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Health Science, to ensure that your application is passed to the correct person for processing.
NOTE CLEARLY THE NAME OF THE SUPERVISOR AND EXACT PROJECT TITLE ON THE APPLICATION FORM.
Candidates should contact the lead supervisor to discuss the project in advance of submitting an application, as supervisors will be expected to provide a letter of support for suitable applicants. Candidates will be informed after the application deadline if they have been shortlisted for interview.