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Fellowships to tackle musculoskeletal pain in young people

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Two new research fellowships – funded by us and Versus Arthritis – are aiming to improve the lives of young people living with musculoskeletal pain.

Musculoskeletal pain is acute or chronic pain felt in the muscles, ligaments, tendons or bones. It’s often poorly understood, poorly managed, and if left unchecked, it can have lasting consequences for young people, including disability or emotional distress.

Right now, chronic pain affects between 18.4 million and 28 million people across the UK. That's more than a third of the population living in pain for more than three months.

Although research into the causes and treatment of adult pain has increased, the results of these studies cannot be generalised to children, as the experience of pain is influenced by both physical and psychosocial factors (e.g. mood, beliefs, social environment).

There is a severe lack of research funding into musculoskeletal pain in young people. This new investment aims to increase our understanding of the mechanisms underpinning musculoskeletal pain in children and adolescents, as well as to improve diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.

Together with Versus Arthritis, we have awarded two ‘Catalyst Fellowships’, to Dr Verena Hinze - Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford - and Dr Rhiannon Joslin, Clinical Academic Physiotherapist at the University of Southampton.

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Dr Verena Hinze Dr Verena Hinze

Dr Verena Hinze, University of Oxford: Distress in young people with chronic pain: Who is at risk, when, and why?

Catalyst Fellowship - £130,000 (2 years)

Living with chronic pain can be tough for any young person. But while some people may experience distressing thoughts, others may not.

No young person should face these problems alone. So, it’s important for researchers to figure out who might be more vulnerable to distress, when and why. That way, support can be provided to young people when they need it most.

Through her research, Dr Hinze will explore why some young people with chronic pain may experience severe distress but not others.

She will invite 70 young people with chronic pain (aged 12-19 years) to answer a few questions about their pain and feelings four times per day.

This will help the researchers better understand how feelings of pain and distress might change over hours, days, and weeks. Plus, it might show which psychological and social factors could bring about these changes.

Answering these questions is vital as it will help to make sure vulnerable young people get the right care at the right time.

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Dr Rhiannon Joslin Dr Rhiannon Joslin

Dr Rhiannon Joslin, University of Southampton: Personalised physiotherapy treatment for young people experiencing pain

Catalyst Fellowship - £147,000 (2 years)

Muscle and joint pains, sprains, and broken bones are all common as a child. While most young people can get better, for others pain can continue into adult life.

Physiotherapy treatment is recommended for these pains but very little is known about why it can help. Past research showed it was how the treatment was given that mattered to young people and impacted their recovery.

Through her research fellowship, Dr Joslin will develop a training package for physiotherapists that aims to make physiotherapy treatment more personalised.

Dr Joslin said: “We hope that by personalising physiotherapy treatment, this will allow young people to feel more in control, reach their goals and prevent these problems from lasting into later life.”

First, workshops with young people (aged 14-18) will select creative ways to help them to talk about their pain and to set treatment goals. Young people, parents and physiotherapists will then provide feedback on how these approaches could be used in clinical practice.

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