Summary

Background

The health and well-being benefits of being physically active are well documented. Musculoskeletal conditions, such as knee pain, can significantly affect an individual’s ability and motivation to be physically active. This may result in an active child becoming an inactive adolescent and young adult with the associated negative health consequences. Evidence indicates an almost fourfold increase in musculoskeletal pain from early to middle adolescence (5-9yrs to 10-14yrs or age). Musculoskeletal pain affects at least 1 in 3 adolescents, with the knee being the most common pain location. Patellofemoral pain is the second most common knee pain complaint among adolescents with up to 25% in sports-active adolescents.

More concerning, 4 out of 10 adolescents will continue to have persistent knee pain which may affect their ability to be physical activity and participate in sports. Despite evidence to the contrary, a common misconception is that musculoskeletal pain during adolescence is labelled as ‘growing pains’, is self-limiting, with individuals often encouraged to reduce, or avoid, physical activity and sports participation. The prevalence and impact of musculoskeletal conditions in adolescents in Northern Ireland has not been documented or explored. This project aims to deepen our understanding of the prevalence of musculoskeletal pain, and its effect, in adolescents in Northern Ireland.

Aims & Objectives

The primary aim of this PhD study will be to investigate the effect of musculoskeletal conditions on physical activity and sports participation, and current management approaches. The primary objectives are to:

1). Investigate the prevalence of musculoskeletal pain in adolescents in Northern Ireland post-primary school age pupils (11-18 years of age).

2). Investigate how musculoskeletal pain affects an individual’s well-being and ability to be physical activity and involved in sports.

3). Investigate the current understanding of sports medicine practitioners on the optimal management of musculoskeletal pain in adolescents

Methods

It is anticipated that this project will use a mixed methods approach. The objectives will be first examined through literature reviewing. The main study of surveying across schools within Northern Ireland will align with the first and second objectives. This study will establish baseline data for future longitudinal follow-up of those who report musculoskeletal pains. Objective three will be addressed by a survey and focus group work, of adolescents, parents and health care professionals on adolescent musculoskeletal pain and optimal management.

Project output

This project will help to understand the impact of musculoskeletal pain on adolescents, their physical activity and sports participation. This will help to inform injury prevention techniques and enhance player welfare across all youth contact sports.

How the proposals fit the Centre’s themes

It is important to remain physically active at all stages of life for greater overall well-being. Many young people use physical activity and competitive sport to optimise their health.  This project crosses both the physical activity and health and sport and exercise medicine themes of the research institute.

This project will have international collaborations with Prof Michael Rathleff, Aalborg University, Denmark and Prof Bill Vicenzino, University of Queensland, Australia

Dr Mark Matthews is a sports physiotherapist within the School of Sport.

Dr Chris Bleakley is a member of staff within the School of Health Sciences and is aiming to develop his research capacity within the Research Institute.

This project is ideally suited for a physiotherapist or medical student as it may require physical examination and diagnosis of musculoskeletal conditions.


Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 65%
  • Completion of Masters at a level equivalent to commendation or distinction at Ulster
  • Practice-based research experience and/or dissemination
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • Use of personal initiative as evidenced by record of work above that normally expected at career stage.

    The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for the following levels of support:

    Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)

    Full award (full-time PhD fees + DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £15,000 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)

    Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £7,500 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)

    Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Department for the Economy (DFE)

    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,285 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to: www.ulster.ac.uk/doctoralcollege/postgraduate-research/fees-and-funding/financing-your-studies



The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Reviews

Profile picture of Joshua Williamson

My research examined the ability of exercise to inflict damage to DNA and other biologically important structures. During my PhD I had the pleasure of being supervised by Prof Gareth Davison and Dr Ciara Hughes. Pursuing a PhD was never a goal from the outset of my academic career - I wanted to be a PE teacher and completed my BSc in Sport and Exercise Science. However, I carried on with my studies and completed a MSc in Sports Nutrition before enrolling in my PhD.If I could give advice to any new graduate student, it would be the nature of research means that things will not always go according to plan. Keep calm, take a break and then carry on. Have a life outside work. Although your lab group is like your work family, it’s great for your mental health to be able to escape work especially when things don't go to plan.

Joshua Williamson - PhD in Sports Science