PhD Student Profile

Helen Oakes

Helen Oakes

PhD Student

School: School of Human and Life Sciences

Campus: Canterbury

Twitter account

Profile summary

I completed my BSc in Physiotherapy at University College London in 1997 and MSc in Manipulative Physiotherapy at the University of Brighton in 2003. Following being awarded a NIHR Internship in 2017 for a year at the University of Kent, I enrolled at Canterbury Christ Church University part-time as an MPhil/PhD student in 2018. I now work 3 days a week for East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust as an Advanced Practice Physiotherapist specialising in persistent back pain and the rest of the week is spent working on my PhD.  My PhD supervisors are Dr Marlize DeVivo, Dr David Stephensen and Dr Hayley Mills.

My research project title is: Swimming as a rehabilitation modality for persistent low back pain: A development and feasibility study.

Project summary

Low Back Pain (LBP) is the number one cause of disability globally and is estimated to cost UK healthcare more than £1.6 billion per annum. Guidelines recommend group exercise programs for the management of LBP. Swimming is frequently advised despite little supporting evidence; however, it is low impact and might target conditions associated with LBP such as obesity, inactivity, and depression. Swimming lessons are not funded by the NHS, many adults cannot swim and there are no guidelines regarding what type of swimming program to recommend.

This is a multi-phase research project; the first phase will aim to develop a series of swimming lessons to be used as a LBP rehabilitation tool.

Study 1: Participants with LBP for more than 3 months will be invited to complete a survey; asking them what stops and encourages them to go swimming.

Study 2: Swimmers who use swimming to manage LBP will be interviewed.

Study 3: The swimming lessons will be developed using the data from study 1 and 2 and by consulting physiotherapists, swimming teachers, and patients.

Study 4: The second phase will be a feasibility study. This study will compare over the course of 6 weeks the swimming lessons to aquatic therapy (exercise in water), which is usual physiotherapy care for patients with LBP. Data will be collected on the running of the study and outcomes including function and quality of life.

If the results from this feasibility study are positive and the swimming lessons are found to be acceptable by patients then a large randomised clinical trial will be developed using the data collected in the feasibility study. An external funding application (Research for Patient Benefit) will be developed using the data collected.

In my spare time I swim for Hythe Aqua Masters squad, competing in both the pool and open water.

Publications and Posters

Cairns, M and Oakes, H. 2014. Final report on the standardized data collection tool for the audit of acupuncture treatment for low back pain. Journal of the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists. Spring: 65-70.

Oakes, H. (2009) Orthopaedic shoulder clinic diagnosis and treatment plan audit Clinical Governance: An International Journal 14(2): 126-133.

Oakes, H. and Bassett, P. 2015. A comparative study investigating the effect of group acupuncture versus individual targeted acupuncture on reducing pain in individuals with low back pain. Acupuncture in Physiotherapy. Autumn Edition.

Oakes, H (2018) Advanced Practice Physiotherapy Meeting. A patient and public involvement survey carried out to guide a research project exploring swimming as a form of rehabilitation for persistent low back pain. Poster presentation.

Oakes, H., DeVivo, M., Mills, H. and Stephensen, D (2019). Should physiotherapist recommend swimming to patients with low back pain and is further research warranted? Physiotherapy UK conference. Poster presentation.


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Last edited: 27/11/2019 11:32:00