Researchers trial state-of-the-art analysis for neck pain

Jul 22 2015

Associate Professor Suzanne Snodgrass

University of Newcastle researchers are investigating new ways to diagnose and treat patients suffering chronic neck pain, a condition that affects more than 600,000 Australians and costs around $1.14 billion in associated health care.

Coinciding with National Pain Week, researchers from physiotherapy and neuroscience backgrounds are collaborating to determine whether advanced MRI scanning can be used to better diagnose neck pain and personalise treatment.

Chief researcher Associate Professor Suzanne Snodgrass said the research could help determine the biological underpinnings of persistent neck pain, which are often labelled as ‘non-specific’.

Links between neuroimaging findings and 3-D motion analysis may determine if postures used to perform everyday movements contribute to pain. Muscle volume will be a focus area as neck pain patients tend to have smaller, weaker neck muscles.

“Neck pain is a significant societal problem. Studies show that people with neck pain are more likely to report psychological distress and risky health behaviours than those without symptoms,” Associate Professor Snodgrass said.

“Headaches are commonly associated with the condition and people may also get radiating pain down their arm, which comes from the nerve roots in their neck.

“We hope to identify a successful imaging technique that distinguishes those at high risk of persistent pain in the hope of finding new targets for treatment. We have three ongoing studies right now recruiting patients with chronic non-traumatic neck pain.”

People aged between 18-55 years who have experienced neck pain for longer than three months may be eligible to participate in the studies. For comparison, the researchers are also recruiting people without neck pain.

Participants will be asked to attend the University of Newcastle’s Callaghan campus and the HMRI Imaging Centre on the John Hunter campus.

For more details or to volunteer for the study, please contact Associate Professor Suzanne Snodgrass on 4921 2089 or

* The research is supported by the Ramaciotti Foundation and Spinal Research Foundation. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.