How sports science research feeds into medical care

Three articles by researchers at Bangor University’s School of Sport, Health & Exercise Sciences appear in the latest issue of Arthritis Care and Research, an international journal published by the American College of Rheumatology. The latest edition is a special issue containing 18 articles focussing on state-of-the-art research on muscle and bone in the rheumatic diseases.

 “The research that we conduct here at Bangor University often falls at the interface between Sports Science and Medicine, in that we are able to apply sports science principals in a clinical setting. To do this we work in close association with the local NHS and are very grateful for the collaborative relationship that we share with them,” said Tim Woodman, Head of the School of Sport, Health & Exercise Sciences.

The articles illustrate how, with the advent of better treatments for the diseases, the focus on research is shifting towards improving quality of life for people with these conditions. The research also highlights how expertise in Sports Science and a detailed understanding of  muscle, tendon and bone function, and how they affect one another, can lead to improvements in the treatment programmes that support people with rheumatoid arthritis and other bone conditions.

Dr Jamie Macdonald the author of one of the papers explains: “The focus of research and clinical care used to be on managing the disease alone. Now that treatment of the disease is improving and patients are living longer, the focus is also on providing exercise and other programmes to enable people with these conditions to maintain or improve their current health and mobility.”

One article, for example follows up groundbreaking research conducted at Bangor University which, established for the first time that exercise was beneficial to rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. “The traditional advice had been to be careful and to rest- alongside which, many with rheumatoid arthritis felt wary of undertaking exercise. We established that intense exercise is beneficial to people with the condition,” explains Dr Andrew Lemmey of the School.

Latest research by Dr Lemmey and colleagues, described in the Journal, found lasting benefits from having participated in the exercise programme six years previously. The people involved in the exercise programme had not gained as much weight and were more mobile than others in the research. However the research also established that exercise needs to be maintained for maximum benefit to the muscle.

An article on an individual case illustrates the University’s close working relationship with the local NHS. A case referred to the University by the NHS enabled Drs Jeanette Thom and Andrew Lemmey to apply sport science knowledge to improve an arthritic knee. Transferring the benefits of that knowledge to the local health system and highlighting the findings in the article ensures that such knowledge feeds into the local and wider community, so that others can further the work.

The third article focuses on the little understood condition of osteoporosis in men and on the interplay between muscle and bone.  It provides strong evidence of a relationship between muscle mass and bone strength and identifies muscle as a new target to indirectly treat low bone strength.

Publication date: 18 January 2012