New insights into the low back pain problems: opportunities for doctoral studies


Our understanding of back pain is still in its infancy, despite decades of focussed study, and therefore many opportunities exist for PhD students to explore the full spectrum of issues, from diagnosis and prevention to designing the first effective treatment and identifying factors that increase the risk of persisting episodes of pain and disability.


Professor Kathryn Refshauge, Associate Professor Paulo Ferreira

Research Location

Clinical and Rehabilitation Sciences Research Group

Program Type



Despite the enormous expenditure world-wide on treating and researching low back pain, little is known about the causes of back pain, the factors that increase the risk of developing back pain, or about effective treatments.  My group has investigated the efficacy of many treatments, with unrewarding results.  However, we are closer to resolving some of these unanswered questions.  We have shown that patients with serious pathology rarely present with low back pain as the primary symptom, but that clinical screening in primary care is effective for identifying cases when they do present.  We have also shown that, although most cases of back pain are benign, contrary to traditional thinking, recovery is slow and incomplete.  When we further explored the determinants of recovery by interviewing patients after an episode of chronic back pain, we were surprised to find that how patients define recovery is quite differently from how their treating clinicians and researchers defined their recovery.  We are using this information to improve our outcome measures to enable better evaluation of treatments.

My group is also currently tackling the most vexed issue of all, ie diagnosis.  We are exploring possible pathologies, including, more broadly, psychology and nervous system changes, responsible for the most common form of low back pain, ie “non-specific low back pain”, and particularly its persistence.  There are many PhD opportunities provided by our group of back pain researchers that will lead to dissertations and doctoral theses of very high quality.  There are scholarship and funding opportunities to explore the diagnosis, prevention, risk factors and treatment of back pain.  We are also, concurrently, studying similar issues relating to neck pain, an area that is far less frequently studied than back pain, with many similar opportunities.

Our expectation is that students will publish their work as they proceed through their doctorate program, with a resulting dissertation comprised of a series of publications in high impact journals.

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back pain, low back pain, spinal pain, sciatica, disc problems, Diagnosis, risk factors, prognosis, treatment, PhD opportunities

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 799

Other opportunities with Professor Kathryn Refshauge

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