Western-led research aims to help shoulder arthritis patients

One of three new projects receiving inaugural Arthritis Society Ignite Research Grants

By Mari-Len De Guzman

December 6, 2021

Researchers at Western Health Science’s school of physical therapy are working shoulder to shoulder to develop a new patient education program that can help those suffering from arthritis in the upper extremities.

About 20 per cent of Canadians live with arthritis. Shoulder arthritis is the focus of the work being led by co- principal investigators Paul Parikh, a new faculty member, and Joy MacDermid, the Dr. James Roth Chair in Musculoskeletal Measurement and Knowledge Translation and Canada Research Chair in  Musculoskeletal Health Outcomes and Knowledge Translation. Now, the work is getting a much-needed boost with the new Ignite Research Grant from the Arthritis Society.

“Shoulder arthritis is very common, particularly as you get older, but there tends to be far less research on it,” said MacDermid. Like other types of arthritis, shoulder arthritis can be debilitating, with some patients ending up having to undergo joint replacement. People who live with shoulder arthritis have chronic pain, difficulty with tasks of daily life and have large unmet needs for care, which has worsened during the pandemic.

With the grant, MacDermid and Parikh will develop patient-led educational modules for joint protection and management of shoulder arthritis. And ‘patient’ is the operative word.

“It’s important to really recognize the fact that it’s a patient-led model for joint protection,” said Parikh,  a professor at the school of physical therapy.

This means patients are significantly engaged in the research process, through surveys and in-depth interviews, to gain insights on patient preference and experiences that will inform the development of the joint protection program for shoulder arthritis.

“We find out what patients want to know; we find out how they want to have that information delivered. And then we look at the biomechanics evidence and what we know about what the best advice to give them is – from biomechanics, from pacing – the theoretical knowledge about what ways we can reduce joint loading. And then we bring that together in educational modules,” MacDermid said.

Technology will also be a critical component of this research, particularly on how the joint protection program will be implemented. Motion shirts developed at the Hand and Upper Limb Centre will be used to track how people do tasks during daily life at home, and how they affect the demands placed on people’s shoulder, using remote monitoring. Technology will be used to make the education modules more accessible.

“We are going to look at different ways that technology can be used to disseminate this knowledge to patients because we all know that technology is quite different for different people, and especially for those who have joint arthritis,” Parikh said.

MacDermid’s work is one of three Western-led research projects recently granted funding through the inaugural Ignite Research Grant of the Arthritis Society. Nine researchers from across Canada were awarded a combined total of nearly $900,000.

“These researchers are exceptionally creative, exploring out-of-the-box ideas. We’re committed to supporting their innovative efforts because arthritis needs bold solutions,” said Dr. Siân Bevan, chief science officer at the Arthritis Society, in a press release announcing the new grant. “There are six million Canadians living with the fire of arthritis and we need to strive for improved treatments – or better yet, a cure – to transform their lives.”

In addition to MacDermid, Western professors Dr. David Holdsworth and Emily Lalone were also awarded funding for their respective projects.

 

Holdsworth, a professor in the department of surgery and medical biophysics at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, is working to create a low-cost, wearable device to measure physical activity and movement in people with arthritis. This device will enable health providers to accurately gauge the success of treatments. This work, like Dr MacDermid’s, is leveraging Western’s deep skills in using wearable sensor to create new treatment innovations for musculoskeletal health.

These projects, from three teams linked to Western’s Bone and Joint Institute, reflect Western’s strategic commitment to improve musculoskeletal health of Canadians.

 

 

Emily Lalone, a professor in the department of mechanical and materials engineering, is developing and testing a new tool to improve x-ray imaging of the wrist to improve diagnosis of ligament tears that can lead to arthritis. The goal for this project is early prevention of post-traumatic arthritis, through better identification of those at risk after an injury.

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