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Institute for Life SciencesHealth & Medicine

Active Bodies

We are developing new technologies and establishing new clinical practices to keep people as active as possible for as long as possible, whether they have musculoskeletal, neurological or respiratory conditions. We also aim to prevent problems in in the general population, so they can be fit and healthy.

Image credit: Dr Martin Warner

The UK’s population is living longer, and this presents new healthcare challenges. Bone-related injuries and the cost of treating them, costs the UK economy around £2billion per year while musculoskeletal disorders like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis affect around 17.8 million people across the UK, with an NHS cost of more than £10.2bn a year. Inactivity is a major cause of chronic diseases such as stroke, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Rates of stroke remain high and it is now the fourth biggest killer in the UK, and costs society around £26billion a year.

As a result, we are being urged to become a more active nation and carry out more exercise and activity to help us remain fit and healthy. Some types of physical activities, such as certain sports and occupations, can cause injuries that limit our ability to be active by damaging joints.  Our work on prevention focuses on three important stages:
1) preventing injuries happening in the first place by preparing the body for exercise and teaching people to move in a way that is safe for their joints;
2) when injuries do happen, preventing them from developing into osteoarthritis; and
3) helping those living with osteoarthritis to have active lives.

This work is based in the Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis Research Versus Arthritis 

The cost of an ageing population combined with the cost of an inactive lifestyle is a considerable healthcare challenge. To meet this challenge head on, Southampton researchers across disciplines such as Health Sciences, Engineering, Medicine and Psychology are sharing expertise and working together to develop new ways of preventing, diagnosing and managing conditions that are likely to affect the majority of the population. From developing new assistive technology to enhance and improve recovery from stroke and bone fractures, to devising new warm-up routines to prevent injuries and improve the quality of the way people move to protect their joints, our researchers are working closely with clinicians, so that our projects are translated into clinical practice and routine prevention strategies to have a positive impact on patients and the general public.

Programmes of collaboration include:

Enabling Active Living

Foot and Ankle Research

Joint pain self-management accessible to all


Neuro programmes

Shoulder and upper limb research and rehabilitation programmes

Musculoskeletal Health of Astronauts in Space - Space research increases our understanding of the ageing process and rehabilitation strategies on Earth.

Related Staff Member

Please see a selection of postgraduate courses related to this subject area below. 

For the full range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses at the University of Southampton, please visit our courses webpages

PhD Research Doctorate

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is designed for all healthcare professionals who wish to undertake research at the highest level.

PhD Programme - Medicine

Choose from Southampton’s full and part-time PhDs in a broad range of specialist areas in Medicine, including biomedicine, research in clinical environments and population-based statistical studies.

DM Programme Medicine

Our part-time Doctor of Medicine degree programmes are aimed at students with a clinical background, who hold a medical qualification.

MSc Health Psychology

Explore how psychological knowledge can improve wellbeing and manage chronic disorders with our MSc in Health Psychology.

MSc in Statistics with Applications in Medicine

The MSc in Statistics with Applications in Medicine provides training in statistical methodology with an emphasis on solving practical problems arising in the context of collecting and analysing medical data.

MSc Biodevices

This degree programme includes the scientific and engineering principles underpinning a range of micro and nanoscale technologies with options to specialise in areas such as biodevices.

MSc Biomedical Engineering

This masters course will equip you with the specialist knowledge, expertise and skills to integrate biology and medicine with engineering to solve problems related to living systems.

The Arthritis Research UK Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis 

Southampton researchers are playing a key role in a national collaboration that supports and works with sports representatives, patients and the public, to improve understanding of the effects of sport and exercise on joint health and osteoarthritis. 

The Arthritis Research UK Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis 

is a network of six universities including Nottingham, Oxford, Bath, Leeds, Loughborough and Southampton. It consists of world-leading researchers in sport and exercise medicine, orthopaedics, rheumatology, physiotherapy, podiatry, occupational therapy, sports science, bioengineering, epidemiology and physiology. 

The Centre is working with athletes from recreational level to the elite level to understand the effects of sport, exercise and injury on musculoskeletal health and osteoarthritis, and find new ways of preventing long-term damage.

The Southampton team, based in the Active Living & Rehabilitation Group, are leading projects including a study looking at the biomechanics in hip and groin pain in young footballers, rugby players, ballet dancers and military personnel; understanding how exercise can change movement patterns to protect joints during sport and general activity, and examining the lifetime risk and epidemiology of foot osteoarthritis.

The Centre works closely with the general public.  We run open days about educating people about arthritis and preventing arthritis and are working with people to help us design the best projects for them. We also have public representatives who take part in our studies as researchers, to ensure the work is relevant to real life and addresses the most important questions.



Image courtesy of the Eurpean Space Agency, Prof Blottner (Centre for Space Berlin), and Prof Stokes, Paul Muckelt and Dr Warner (University of Southampton)
Image courtesy of the Eurpean Space Agency, Prof Blottner, Prof Stokes

Southampton space travel research

The loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength is a well-known side-effect of space travel, despite intensive daily exercise.  

Southampton researchers in Health Sciences are part of the first study of its kind to investigate the effect of space flight on muscle tone and size while astronauts are living on the International Space Station. They are working with the European Space Agency on the Myotones Project, which is using a device called the MyotonPRO, that takes rapid measurements of key biomechanical parameters, such as tone and stiffness of muscles and tendons.

Our team is leading on the imaging aspect of the study where ultrasound scans are used to measure soft tissue thickness to help understand the changes in Myoton recordings. The ultrasound images are also being used to monitor changes in muscle size during the space mission.

The project findings will not only help astronauts on future space missions deal with the loss of muscle but will also benefit people on Earth by feeding back into research around muscle-wasting conditions.
European Space Agency website

Contacts:  Prof Maria Stokes, Dr Martin Warner, Paul Muckelt


Regaining arm movement after stroke

Around 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke each year and, despite improvements in acute care that results in better survival rates, about 60 per cent of people with moderate to severe strokes fail to recover useful function of their arm and hand.

Southampton scientists, in the fields of Health Sciences and electronics have developed new wearable technology in the form of a sleeve, to help people who have had a stroke recover use of their arm and hand. The wireless sleeve provides automatic, intelligent information about muscle movement and strength while patients practice every-day tasks at home. The Southampton team have worked with Imperial College London, two NHS Trusts in Bristol and Portsmouth and two commercial entities.

The wearable technology is the first to incorporate mechanomyography (MMG) microphone-like sensors that detect the vibration of a muscle when it contracts, and inertial measurement units (IMU), comprising tri-axial accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers that detect movement. Data from the two types of sensors are combined and then data that is not needed, for example outside noise, is removed from the muscle signal.

The feedback to patients is presented on a user-friendly computer interface as an accurate representation of their movement, showing them how much they have improved. The clinicians involved in the patients’ care are also provided information in a separate format for clinical decision-making, treatment and progress and therefore increase efficiency and effectiveness of therapy.

Our aim is to provide a cost-effective wearable technology that will help stroke patients regain the use of their arm and hand, reduce time spent with therapists and allow them to have the recommended 45 minutes daily therapy more flexibly in their own homes rather than a clinical setting.

Contact: Prof Jane Burridge


Communication is key

Communication impacts upon every health care encounter and has been described as the most important aspect of practice that health professionals have to master. 

Southampton researchers, led by those in Health Sciences but involving academics from Medicine and Psychology as well, are exploring novel ways to measure and analyse communication between health professionals and patients during clinical consultations.  So far, this work has measured the content of back pain consultations and shown that experienced clinicians ask more about the emotional aspects of back pain than less-experienced staff, but are more likely to interrupt patients while taking their history. 

This research looks at how information is gathered, how findings from the consultation and investigations, for example scans are explained, any advice that is given by the health professional, how decisions are made about treatments and whether or not patients feel listened to.  The aim of this work is to ensure that patients have the best outcomes and experiences when seeking healthcare. 

Treating back pain is important as it causes more global disability than any other condition, affects up to 85 per cent of adults, and costs the UK an estimated £12.3 billion each year.  Given its importance, our team is currently working with the University of Keele to develop and test tailored internet resources for people to support them when they first seek help for back pain.  The team, working closely with patients, has produced a package of film clips and advice about the issues that matter most to people in pain, and are conducting a trial to see if this additional support improves their recovery.

Contact: Dr Lisa Roberts

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