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Facts & figures

Our researchers hold:

  • 8 fellowships Seven NHMRC and one EU
  • $28 million in NHMRC grants
Research_

Institute for Musculoskeletal Health

Partnership in musculoskeletal health and physical activity
We bring together patients and clinicians with researchers to drive global improvements in health outcomes through increased understanding and treatments for poor musculoskeletal health.

Poor musculoskeletal health is the leading cause of disability globally, and this burden will increase in coming decades with an ageing population. An intensified research effort is needed where consumers are actively involved so the research can deliver a real-world impact.

We aim to address this problem by bringing together patients and clinicians with world-leading musculoskeletal health researchers from the Sydney School of Public Health. Our partnership between the Sydney Local Health District and the University of Sydney provides a platform to strengthen clinician-researcher alliances, and improve the translation of the University's research into the community.

Our vision is to become a world leader in musculoskeletal health and physical activity research and in doing so, drive global improvements in health outcomes. We aim to achieve this through priority-based, high-quality, and patient-centred research. We promote translational research, foster the development of a highly skilled musculoskeletal research workforce, and contribute to developing sustainable, equitable and cost-effective health care services.

Research streams

Our research is conducted in three streams:

  • back pain and musculoskeletal conditions (including researching into improving critical care, preventing overdiagnosis, intervention testing, children and adolescents, and surgery)
  • physical activity, ageing and disability (including research into mobility and falls, healthy ageing and disability)
  • evidence and equity (including the PEDro Partnership and Indigenous health).

Our research projects

We hope the findings of this project lead to improved physical activity levels in adults who have difficulty walking. 

The aim is to evaluate the effectiveness of two physical activity interventions on adults with self-reported walking difficulty. The participant will be allocated to one of three groups. The first intervention includes: a tailored physical activity plan based on a face-to-face assessment with a physiotherapist, six months of phone-based health coaching, use of technology to keep you active and access to online resources. The second intervention is a less intensive health-coaching program involving a phone consultation with a physiotherapist, monthly text messages to follow up and access to online resources. The third group will receive no intervention for the first six months and then receive the second intervention for the second six months. The project will be conducted over 12 months. You may be eligible to participate in this study if you are 18 years or older, living in the community, and have a mobility limitation – difficulty or inability to walk 800m. 

Principal investigator: Professor Cathie Sherrington

Chief investigators: Professor Rana Hinman, Professor Maria Crotty, Professor Tammy Hoffmann, Associate Professor Anne Tiedemann, Professor Lisa Harvey, Professor Nicholas Taylor and Dr Leanne Hassett

For more information about this project, please contact Dr Leanne Hassett at leanne.hassett@sydney.edu.au.

This is a NHMRC Project Grant (2018 - 2021) in the Physical Activity, Ageing and Disability theme.

We hope the findings of this project lead to the development of home-based exercise programs to improve strength, balance and reduce falls and improve shoulder functioning in older people. 

The aim of this project is to compare the effectiveness of two home-based exercise programs - one aimed at improving lower limb strength and balance for preventing falls and the other aimed at improving upper limb strength and mobility to reduce shoulder dysfunction. Participants are taught the exercises in a group workshop setting and then complete their exercises at home three times each week for 12 months. Participants are provided with a calendar to record their exercises and falls each month, and a program manual and exercise weights. 

Principal investigator: Professor Cathie Sherrington

Chief investigators: Dr Susan Furber, Associate Professor Anne Tiedemann, Professor Kirsten Howard, Professor Adrian Bauman, Associate Professor Karen Ginn and Dr Paul Van Den Dolder

For more information about this project, please contact Professor Cathie Sherrington at cathie.sherrington@sydney.edu.au. This project has received ethics approval from the University of Wollongong and Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (HE14/279). 

This is a NHMRC Partnership Grant (2014 – 2019) in the Physical Activity, Ageing and Disability theme.

Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry: ACTRN12615000865516

We hope the findings of this project lead to increased physical activity, decrease the risk of falling and improve eating habits in older people.

The aim is to evaluate the effectiveness of two 12 month healthy ageing strategies among people who attend established, community-based groups. The first intervention is a physical activity and fall prevention intervention, including telephone-based health coaching and written information on physical activity and falls. The second is a nutrition intervention involving telephone-based health coaching and written information about eating habits. The trial also aims to establish the impact of these interventions on physical activity, eating habits, weight (body mass index), goal attainment, mobility confidence, quality of life, fear of falling, risk-taking behaviour, well-being, and mood. 


Principal investigator: Professor Cathie Sherrington

Chief investigators: Associate Professor Anne Tiedemann, Professor Dafna Merom, Professor Stuart Smith, Associate Professor Allison Tong, Professor Kirsten Howard and Professor Chris Rissel

For more information about this project, please contact Associate Professor Anne Tiedemann at anne.tiedemann@sydney.edu.au. This project has received ethics approval from the University of Sydney Human Research Ethics Committee (2013/789).

This is a NHMRC Project Grant (2015 - 2018) in the Physical Activity, Ageing and Disability theme.

Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry: ACTRN12615001190594

We hope the findings of this project lead to the development of an education program to improve physical and mental health and prevent disability in middle-aged women.

This project offers a free one hour workshop to staff members from the Sydney Local Health District and the University of Sydney, who are aged 50 years and over and able to take part in regular physical activity. The workshop provides information about the importance of physical activity for maximising physical and mental health and preventing disability in older age. It also provides information regarding local area resources to participate in and enhance physical activity. Follow-up support is offered via fortnightly email messages and use of a Fitbit activity tracker.

Principal investigator: Professor Cathie Sherrington

Chief investigators: Professor Colleen Canning, Dr Leanne Hassett, Ms Cath MacKay, Dr Bethan Richards, Professor Roberta Shepherd, Associate Professor Anne Tiedemann and Ms Geraldine Wallbank

For more information about this project, please contact Ms Geraldine Wallbank at sph.activewoman@sydney.edu.au. This project has received ethics approval from the University of Sydney Human Research Ethics Committee.

This project is part of the Physical Activity, Ageing and Disability theme.

Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry: ACTRN12617000485336

We hope the findings of this project lead to increased physical activity and decreased risk of falling in older people.

The aim of this project is to establish the impact of a physical activity and fall prevention intervention compared to an advice brochure in community-dwelling people aged 60+ years. The intervention is delivered during a two hour home visit by a research physiotherapist. Participants undergo a fall risk assessment, set two physical activity goals and receive fortnightly telephone-based health coaching to provide support and motivation to increase their physical activity. Participants are also encouraged to wear a pedometer on a daily basis for six months to provide feedback and motivation. 

Principal investigator: Associate Professor Anne Tiedemann

Chief investigators: Dr Serene Paul, Professor Dafna Merom, Dr Nicola Fairhall, Ms Juliana Oliveira, Dr Leanne Hassett and Professor Cathie Sherrington

For more information about this project, please contact Associate Professor Anne Tiedemann at anne.tiedemann@sydney.edu.au. This study has received ethics approval from the University of Sydney Human Research Ethics Committee (2013/789).

This project is active but no longer recruiting in the Physical Activity, Ageing and Disability theme.

Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry: ACTRN12614000016639

We hope the findings of this project lead to an effective treatment for acute low back pain through reducing pain, increasing mobility, and decreasing use of pain medication. 

The aim of this project is to test the effectiveness of a heat wrap therapy by measuring the patient's use of analgesic medications, clinical outcomes, and adverse events. Adult patients will be eligible for this project if they have acute non-specific low back pain of at least moderate pain intensity, and have not previously tried heat wrap therapy for their low back pain. The participants will wear the heat wrap during waking hours for up to 7 days. Participants will be asked to complete a pain diary over the course of the trial. 

Principal investigator: Dr Christina Abdel Shaheed

Chief investigators: Associate Professor Christine Lin, Dr Stephanie Mathieson, Professor Chris Maher, Associate Professor Laurent Billot, Professor Andrew McLachlan, Professor Ric Day, Professor Jane Latimer, Dr Gustavo Machado, Dr Adrian Traeger, Associate Professor Patrick Kelly and Dr Fiona Stanaway

For more information about this project, please contact Dr Christina Abdel Shaheed at christina.abdelshaheed@sydney.edu.au. This study has received ethics approval from the University of Sydney Human Research Ethics Committee.

This project is prospectively registered and not currently recruiting in the Intervention Testing theme.

Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry: ACTRN12618000270213

We hope that implementation of a new model of care for acute low back pain will make an enormous difference to the health outcomes of patients when visiting an emergency department (ED) and improve the quality of emergency services.

Low back pain patients presenting to EDs often receive complex and unnecessary interventions (e.g. imaging and opioids) yet miss out on the basics of care such as advice on how to self-manage the condition. The Agency for Clinical Innovation (ACI) has recently published a model of care for acute low back pain. The key messages for practice are that non-serious acute low back pain does not require imaging, simple analgesics should be the first option for medicine, and patients should be managed as outpatients. Timely referral and scheduled follow-up reviews are also recommended. At present, active implementation of the ACI model of care and its effects have not been evaluated, and passive dissemination (i.e. publication on a website) is unlikely to change ED practices.

The SHaPED trial aims to improve ED practices through implementing an evidence-based model of care for acute low back pain and evaluate the effects on healthcare service, patient outcomes, and cost compared with usual emergency care.

Principal investigator: Professor Chris Maher

Chief investigators: Dr Gustavo De Carvalho Machado, Dr Bethan Richards, Dr Chris Needs, Dr James Edwards, Dr Eileen Rogan, Dr Rochelle Facer, Professor Ian Harris, Professor Rachelle Buchbinder, Ms Danielle Coombs, Associate Professor Laurent Billot, Dr Matt Oliver, Professor Kirsten Howard and Professor Kirsten McCaffery

For more information about this project, please visit the SHaPED Trial website or contact Dr Gustavo Machado at ph.shaped@sydney.edu.au. The project has received ethics approval from Sydney Local Health District (X17-0043) and is endorsed by the Australia & New Zealand Musculoskeletal (ANZMUSC) Clinical Trials Network.

Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry: ACTRN12617001160325

This project will provide the first robust evidence on the effectiveness of opioids in the treatment of acute low back pain and neck pain. The trial results will improve care for patients suffering acute spinal pain.

Low back pain and neck pain place an enormous burden on patients and health services, both nationally and internationally. Despite the widespread use and recommendations in clinical guidelines, there are no randomised controlled trials that have assessed the effectiveness of opioids for acute low back and neck pain. OPAL is a clinical trial to find out whether opioid analgesics are effective in reducing low back or neck pain, compared to placebo. The opioid analgesic medication– oxycodone - will be taken for up to six weeks. During these six weeks, the participant will be reviewed weekly by a treating physician. 

Principal investigator: Associate Professor Christine Lin

Chief investigators: Professor Chris Maher, Professor Jane Latimer, Associate Professor Laurent Billot, Professor Andrew McLachlan, Professor Ric Day and Professor Bart Koes

For more information, please contact the OPAL team at sph.opal@sydney.edu.au. The study has received ethics approval from the University of Sydney Human Research Ethics Committee (2015-004).

This project is currently recruiting in the Intervention Testing theme.

Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry: ACTRN12615000775516

We hope the findings of this project provide strategies to prevent the recurrence of low back pain.

The TOPS Trial aims to assess the effectiveness and the cost-effectiveness of exercise and educational classes compared with a back care booklet, for reducing recurrence of low back pain. Participants are randomly allocated to one of two groups: participants allocated to the exercise and education group attend a group-based exercise and education program for 12 weeks, and participants allocated to the booklet group receive a self-management and prevention booklet. You may be eligible to participate in this study if you have recently (within the last three months) recovered from an episode of low back pain.

Principal investigator: Professor Chris Maher

Co-investigators: Associate Professor Mark Hancock, Dr Charles New, Professor Jane Latimer and Mr Giovanni Ferreira

Associate investigators: Professor Rachelle Buchbinder, Professor Maurits van Tulder, Associate Professor Christine Lin and Professor Margreth Grotle

For more information, please contact the TOPS team at sph.TOPS@sydney.edu.au. The study has received ethics approval from the University of Sydney Human Research Ethics Committee (2015:728).

This project is currently recruiting in the Intervention Testing theme.

Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry: ACTRN12615000939594

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