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New research into chronic tennis elbow pain wins international award

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A respected Curtin University of Technology researcher has received international recognition by winning the prestigious ‘David Lamb Memorial Award’ for an outstanding research paper on the mechanisms underlying chronic tennis elbow pain.

Dr Helen Slater, a Specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist from Curtin’s School of Physiotherapy has been invited to present her research in a keynote address at the 9th International Federation of Orthopaedic Manipulative Therapists (IFOMT) Congress in Rotterdam in June this year.

As principle researcher, Dr Slater and her team published a research paper entitled “Sensory and motor effects of experimental muscle pain in patients with lateral epicondylalgia and controls with delayed onset muscle soreness.”

Chosen above 12 other outstanding submissions from around the world, which focused on the management of neuromusculoskeletal disorders, Dr Slater’s findings help explain why patients with tennis elbow pain can experience chronic pain that is non-responsive to treatments.

Dr Slater said the Award was a great honour for her and her research collaborators.

“What is most exciting is that our research has been internationally recognised as highly significant to manual therapy specifically, and also the physiotherapy profession as a whole, and may well contribute to the broader medical management of this condition”, said Dr Slater.

“Our research, which focused on patients with chronic tennis elbow pain, helps us to understand why a seemingly straightforward clinical problem frequently doesn’t respond to most current pharmacologic and physical treatments.

“We have found evidence that the nervous system interprets pain signals differently in these patients with chronic elbow pain. For example light touch can become painful or a painful input results in an amplified pain response. For patients this means that simple activities, such as shaking hands or gripping a fork, become painful. This enhanced responsiveness is called “sensitization”.

Chronic musculoskeletal pain conditions such as tennis elbow appear linked with persistent sensitization. This persistent sensitisation has also been shown to occur in patients with osteoarthritis, chronic non-specific low back pain and whiplash.

“Using experimental pain methodologies, we studied sensitization in patients after a pain stimulant was introduced and found the ‘pain volume button’ was turned up, resulting in amplified pain responses.

“We therefore are now currently looking to study the use of specific manual techniques and drug interventions to prevent or limit early sensitization following acute experimental pain.

Significantly, this research will now allow us to look at targeting this sensitisation so we can provide better pain management for patients with tennis elbow. This means that they can engage in their daily lives without restrictions from pain.”

Head of School of Physiotherapy, Professor Tony Wright who was also a co-author of the paper, said Dr Slater’s Award was a significant achievement on the world stage.

“Dr Slater has prepared a world-class research paper in collaboration with some of the finest research minds from across the globe specialising in multi-disciplinary approaches to the management of pain.

The Curtin team collaborated with Professor Lars Arendt-Nielsen and Professor Thomas Graven-Nielsen from one of the world’s foremost pain research facilities, the Centre for Sensory-Motor Interaction at Aalborg University in Denmark.

“The research was also published in ‘Pain” the premier journal in the field of pain research.” Professor Wright said.

The David Lamb Memorial Award is given once every four years and is named after clinician and lecturer, David Lamb, considered to be one of the key figures in the formation of the International Federation of Orthopaedic Manipulative Therapists.

The award is the premier research award in this field and demonstrates international recognition for this high quality research.

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