PhD Student Gifted Specialist Equipment for Back Pain Research

Terence McSweeney is a PhD candidate at AECC University College and Bournemouth University. He is studying quantitative imaging biomarkers and chronic low back pain and recently received the news that he had been gifted specialist equipment to assist with his research.

The equipment was gifted by the De Luca Foundation, who selected five researchers to receive a Trigno Avanti Research+ EMG System as part of a COVID-19 Donation Initiative. Trigno Research+ specialises in wearable solutions for human movement assessments and will be extremely helpful for Terence’s study.

He tells us more:

Researching Chronic Lower Back Pain

“The study is a continuation of established work by the Centre for Biomechanics at AECC University College in collaboration with Bournemouth University and others. Work by Alan Breen, Alex Breen, Fiona Mellor, Alister DuRose, and others at the AECC University College have made a significant contribution to understanding the unique ways the spine moves.

“The primary goal of my project is to better understand some aspects of these findings in people with chronic low back pain. Measuring muscle function while imaging spinal motion is a key aspect of this and that’s where the equipment donation comes in.

“As for predicting what we will find, it may be too early to say. Based on previous studies (and common sense), we will most likely see different patterns of movement and muscle activity in people with pain.

“It will then be a question of testing this as accurately as possible to get new insights into exactly what is going on, and what this means for the patient in pain.”

The De Luca Foundation

“The application process was quite straightforward. I had to give an overview of the research and its relevance, the need for financial support, and evidence of my own background and experience.

“The De Luca Foundation has been extremely generous and has awarded a large number of other donations as part of its COVID-19 research support drive. I hope the equipment will be used for many future research projects besides my own.”

The Equipment

“The equipment is provided by Delsys, who are world-leading manufacturers in the field of wearable sensors for movement science. The system we have been donated allows data collection from a range of different types of sensors and electrodes to be integrated.

“I will be using wireless electromyography (EMG) and motion detection sensors that detect muscle activity and movement at the same time. The combination of EMG and motion sensors, along with the fact that it is wireless, will make it much more practical and accurate for use while imaging the spine.

“The system is very adaptable, so I will get a better idea of exactly how it will be used as I carry out pilot studies and further testing.

Making a Difference

“Low back pain is a complex problem that impacts many people’s lives. Unravelling the many contributing factors is a painstaking process, so any single experiment or project represents only a tiny step towards better treatments.

“In this case, the study will hopefully bring us closer to improving the diagnosis or identification of certain types of low back pain based on the way people move.

“This can help healthcare practitioners and patients make better decisions together about how to proceed with treatment such as surgery, medication, exercise and other approaches.”

Career so Far

“I graduated with a Masters in Osteopathy from the British College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2011 and have mixed clinical practice with teaching roles since then.

“I have always had an interest in research and completed an MSc in Pain Management in 2014. I spent four years as a full-time lecturer in Osteopathy at Swansea University where I was involved in all aspects of the programme and student clinic.

“I then took a break from academia to work in private practice in Bahrain for the last two-and-a-half years which has been an incredible experience. I am now in the very lucky position that I can return to academia full-time thanks to this PhD project with AECC University College and Bournemouth University.

“After the PhD I would love to continue with a research career, although I’ll always try to keep up a bit of clinical practice too.

“As well as this study, I do have an interest in other types of chronic pain such as TMD (jaw pain), headaches and facial pain, and visceral pain. Hopefully, the research and technical skills I gain through the PhD will help prepare me for investigating these subjects in the future, as well as continuing to study back pain.”