Undergraduate collaborates to deliver research with impact

Fourth year BSc Physiotherapy student Aoife Synnott was drawn to a career in physiotherapy which she describes as “exciting, person-centred and allows you to make a meaningful difference to people’s lives in terms of rehabilitation.”

Aoife Synott, BSc Physiotherapy Graduate, University of Limerick

There is an extensive emphasis placed on evidence-based practice in the programme at UL which focuses on available research being translated into meaningful results, benefitting both the clinician and the patient. While conducting research in the area of chronic low back pain, Aoife was fascinated by the poor recovery rates and lack of clinician confidence in managing the condition. She explains: “Back pain accounts for 25% of GP visits in Ireland and is one of the most costly conditions to diagnose and treat. However, a range of existing research demonstrates that many non-physical factors such as stress, fear, depression, poor job satisfaction and patients perceptions of their condition are important in determining whether a person with low back pain recovers. Unfortunately, the professionals who treat people with low back pain such as doctors, surgeons, physiotherapists and chiropractors have been mostly trained to deal with physical and structural factors”.

Aoife’s research demonstrated that physiotherapists feel they do not have the requisite skills and confidence to successfully address and treat these factors in people with low back pain. Aoife explains; “Even though physiotherapists acknowledge that non-physical factors are very important, they questioned whether there was any point in identifying these factors, as treating these non-physical factors was often considered to be beyond their expertise. It remains that a lot of physiotherapists desire further training related to treating the non-physical dimensions of chronic low back pain.”

Progressing this research further led Aoife to collaborate as part of an international research team resulting in a published paper entitled: Physiotherapists may stigmatise or feel unprepared to treat people with low back pain and psychosocial factors that influence recovery: a systematic review in the Journal of Physiotherapy. In this paper Aoife outlined her findings which highlight the need for training of physiotherapists to build confidence in identifying and treating non-physical factors relating to chronic lower back pain.

The opportunity to work as part of an international research group at undergraduate level highlights the extensive and meaningful research links available at UL. Aoife added: “What I was particularly excited about was that the results of this study were meaningful; they would make an impact on physiotherapists out there that were treating patients with low back pain, one of the most common musculoskeletal conditions of the western world. Bringing the research a step further, our findings will be shared with clinicians in clinical practice and be used to inform service developments in the HSE in collaboration with clinical partners.”

Synnott A, O’Keeffe, M, Bunzli, S, Dankaerts, W, O’Sullivan, P, & O’Sullivan, K. (2015) Physiotherapists may stigmatise or feel unprepared to treat people with low back pain and
psychosocial factors that influence recovery: a systematic review.
Journal of Physiotherapy  61(2), 68-76.