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Musculoskeletal health problems include disorders of bones, joints and muscles as well as disabling genetic neuromuscular diseases. Pain and disability associated with musculoskeletal conditions can significantly affect a person's quality of life, often impairing their ability to fully participate in family, social and working life.

In Australia, one in three (6.9 million) people have a musculoskeletal condition. The economic impact is estimated at $55 billion per year, which includes direct and indirect health costs from the loss of functional ability.

Our multidisciplinary team of musculoskeletal researchers carry out pioneering research to maintain musculoskeletal health and find solutions to prevent and treat the pain and disability associated with musculoskeletal disorders.

Our mission is to translate our research findings into clinical practice, to prevent injury and disability and cure debilitating chronic pain. Many of our researchers have been awarded competitive national and international grants to fund their innovative research. Our most recent grant recipients will conduct multi-site, cross-disciplinary projects to reduce the burden of musculoskeletal conditions such as back pain and debilitating neuromuscular disorders in Australian communities.

Meet our researchers

Jim Elliott

Professor Jim Elliott
Research leader; Conjoint Professor of Allied Health, Northern Sydney Local Health District

As a former professional baseball player with a fair share of injuries, I was forever in awe of the physiotherapists helping injured athletes return to play. However, I was frustrated when no one seemed to know why one of my career‑ending injuries would not heal. Since then, I’ve devoted my clinical, academic and research career to understanding why some but not other people take longer to recover following a traumatic injury, specifically head and neck trauma.

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Over the past 10 years, we have discovered that people injured in a car crash have profound changes in the size and shape of their neck muscles. These unique differences predict which patients will develop chronic pain. Our current work uses advanced magnetic resonance imaging techniques to identify changes in spinal cord pathways and skeletal muscles as innovative biomarkers of poor recovery. We aim to use this knowledge to develop more informed diagnostics.

I have been privileged to partner with and have my work recognised by various professional bodies throughout my career, such as the American Physical Therapy Association, North American Spine Society and the Radiological Society of North America. Our interdisciplinary collaborations around the world will ensure our pioneering work leads to new therapies permitting millions of people with acute and chronic spinal pain to live a healthy, active life.

Trudy Rebbeck

Dr Trudy Rebbeck

Early in my physiotherapy career, it frustrated me that we often had no answers for distressed patients who presented with unimaginable pain. I was most concerned by the variety of failed treatments and different and confusing messages they received. Spurred on by this, I became a specialist musculoskeletal physiotherapist, a role in which I was able to provide comprehensive and targeted solutions and turn my patients’ lives around.

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I am driven to translate research into practice and teaching. In a recent breakthrough, we discovered different concentrations of brain neurochemicals (GABA) in people with migraine.

I have been privileged to work with industry throughout my career, such as partnering with the State Insurance Regulatory Authority since 2000. We published the first guidelines on how whiplash is managed in affected individuals. Since then, I have worked with multiple disciplines and institutions in educating clinicians, general practitioners, physiotherapists and medical specialists.

Meet our research students

Aimie Peek

Aimie Peek

In the 12 years I have worked as a physiotherapist, I have been intrigued as to why some patients recover quickly while others are left with persistent symptoms. I realized there was a need to look deeper into the neurophysiology of persistent pain conditions, specifically headache and migraine.

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If we can understand why certain patients are not responding to traditional treatment approaches at a cellular level, we can better tailor treatments to their individual needs. My current research uses non-invasive brain imaging to validate a biomarker for migraine, which will hopefully improve our understanding of the condition and spur the development of new treatments.

As a physiotherapist, it is very important to produce clinically meaningful research; a vision I share with my supervisor Dr Trudy Rebbeck. I also want to expand my research to explore other pain conditions such as neck and low back pain, one of the leading causes of disability worldwide.

Our research facilities

Matthew Hollings

Clinical Exercise Physiology Laboratory

This laboratory specializes in the clinical, physiological and exercise testing and training of a range of aged and chronic disease populations, with a particular focus on resistance training.

It contains pneumatic resistance machines, a cardiac stress system with treadmill, a Dual-energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA) machine and a range of other clinical measurement devices.