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The University of Southampton
Health Sciences

Royal Navy collaborates with University of Southampton to reduce injuries in Service personnel

Published: 16 August 2023
RN collaborates with UoS
Project aims to reduce painful and debilitating musculoskeletal injuries for Service personnel

A new research project involving the University of Southampton with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines will aim to reduce the number of painful and debilitating musculoskeletal injuries and the long-term burden of those injuries for individual Service personnel.

The programme – in collaboration with the universities of Exeter and Bath – comes at a time when roughly 20 per cent of Navy and Marines personnel are medically downgraded, with around half of those due to musculoskeletal injuries (MSKI).

These injuries can significantly reduce their participation in active Service over the short or long-term, affecting the operational capability of the Royal Navy. Crucially, MSKIs have not necessarily arisen through active Service but rather through routine occupational duties and regular training exercises.

The Royal Navy Musculoskeletal Injury Mitigation Programme (RN MMP) will develop evidence-based applied solutions to mitigate risk, support optimum musculoskeletal health and promote the wellbeing of Service personnel. The joint programme will build on work conducted at the three academic institutions, and will involve University of Southampton researchers Prof Elaine Dennison , Dr Martin Warner and Dr Leo Westbury .

Professor of Musculoskeletal Epidemiology Elaine Dennison said: “Our work at Southampton has contributed to a better understanding of musculoskeletal conditions in the general population and how to effectively implement interventions to reduce risks of adverse events such as fractures. I’m looking forward to applying our research methods to ultimately improve musculoskeletal health in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines.”

Through this collaboration and evidence from previous studies developed by the Institute of Naval Medicine and the consortium universities, a new state-of-the-art screening model will be developed, alongside new education materials and training interventions.

The RN MMP will contribute to the development of a multi-causality risk factor model for different categories of MSKI. The work, with Defence Primary Healthcare teams, will also inform enhanced care to support recovery and rehabilitation from MSKI.

It will collect data about Service personnel’s physical fitness, movement control and patterns, health behaviours – such as diet, physical activity, sleep, alcohol consumption and tobacco use – and information to better understand the impact of the military environment and work routines.

This programme of research across the three universities will commence in Autumn 2023 with a new intake of PhD students starting in September to study these research areas.

Lt Col Erik Nielsen MBE RM from the Institute of Naval Medicine, who jointly leads the programme with Dr Jo Fallowfield, explained: “Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel need to maintain optimal physical and cognitive performance, to endure extended periods of activity with unpredictable rest, as well as exposure to climatic and occupational stressors.

“Despite this, we know that MSKI remains a common and persistent problem, which negatively impacts individuals and the Force’s overall operational effectiveness. Through this work, collaborating with some of the UK’s leading universities, we want to develop a whole systems approach to reduce the prevalence of these injuries and improve the health outcomes and lived experiences of our people.”

Find out more about the project here .

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