A digital health intervention to increase physical activity participation in individuals with knee osteoarthritis

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Applications for this project are closed until further notice.

This is one of two research projects leveraging digital technology to combat knee impairments such as osteoarthritis. The University of Melbourne is the home institution for this project. To view the Manchester-based partner project, click here.

Knee osteoarthritis is a common and disabling chronic disease. There is no cure for knee osteoarthritis, in many cases the severity of pain and functional limitations progress resulting in costly and invasive total knee replacement surgery. Physical activity is a core component of knee osteoarthritis management, with the potential to improve osteoarthritis pain, symptoms and quality of life. However, very few people with knee osteoarthritis meet physical activity guidelines.

Adherence to exercise interventions for people with knee osteoarthritis is poor and benefits are rarely sustained. Interventions are typically non-personalised and are not tailored to individuals’ activity preferences and motivations. Physical activity motivations (e.g. mastery, enjoyment, physical condition, psychological condition, appearance, competition) can discriminate between different forms of physical activity that individuals prefer to participate in (e.g. team sports, individual racing sports, exercise, racquet sports, martial arts). Evaluating an individual’s activity motivations could assist them in finding a form of physical activity that meets their needs to promote sustainable, lifelong physical activity participation.

Behaviour change theory and research on barriers to adherence highlight the need for a theory-based, personalised approach that focuses on maintenance to promote sustainable physical activity in people with knee osteoarthritis. An intervention that combines personalised activity recommendations with theory-based behaviour change techniques and innovative digital-health technology has the potential to improve the sustainability of activity participation, improve quality of life, pain and symptoms.

This can be usefully translated into meaningful information to guide shared informed decision making in the future.

Project goals

The goals of this project are:

  1. To conduct a systematic review to understand the relationship between physical activity motivation and preferred forms of physical activity;
  2. To perform a cross-sectional survey and cluster analysis to evaluate physical activity motivations in relation to preferred types of physical activity, in people with knee osteoarthritis;
  3. To develop a novel digital health intervention to increase physical activity participation in inactive people with knee osteoarthritis; and
  4. To perform a pilot randomised controlled trial to determine the acceptability of the digital health intervention and the feasibility of a large RCT to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention

Supervision team

The University of Melbourne: Doctor Stephanie Filbay, Professor Kim Bennell and Doctor Mark Merolli

*Click on the researcher's name above to learn more about their publication and grant successes.

The University of Manchester: Professor William Dixon

Who we are looking for

We are seeking a PhD candidate with the following skills:

  • Demonstrated experience in a related field (e.g. physiotherapy, medicine, psychology, health sciences, epidemiology).
  • Demonstrated ability to work independently and as part of a team.
  • Demonstrated time and project management skills.
  • Demonstrated ability to write research reports or other publications to a publishable standard (even if not published to date).
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills.
  • Demonstrated organisational skills, time management and ability to work to priorities.
  • Demonstrated problem-solving abilities.

Further details

The PhD candidate will benefit from the combined expertise of the project supervisors, and the embedding into two research environments.

This PhD project will be based at the University of Melbourne with a minimum 12-month stay at the University of Manchester.

The candidate will be enrolled in the PhD program at the Centre for Health, Exercise and Sports Medicine, Melbourne School of Health Sciences (CHESM) at the University of Melbourne. CHESM is a multi-disciplinary team world-renowned for its clinical and translational research in knee osteoarthritis. Candidates will have access to internal and external grant funding and will benefit from CHESM’s strong early-career researcher program including formal mentoring, exchange visits, seed funding and leadership training. Candidates will receive further mentorship from international collaborators with expertise in physical activity interventions, digital health and behaviour change theory.

The candidate will be simultaneously enrolled in the PhD program at the Centre for Epidemiology Versus Arthritis, Division of Musculoskeletal and Dermatological Science, School of Biological Science at the University of Manchester, and whilst in Manchester, benefit from The Centre for Epidemiology Versus Arthritis’ expertise in mobile health study design, conduct, data analysis and interpretation of results. They will learn from a wide range of parallel mobile health studies being conducted in the department, as well as from historical studies and collective experience.

The candidate will attend the annual Manchester Digital Epidemiology Summer School and learn the fundamentals of clinical epidemiology and a series of more advanced methods through the regular departmental meetings and in-house training programs. The Centre for Epidemiology Versus Arthritis has ongoing industry collaborations with Google and Fitbit, providing insights into academic-industry partnerships. The PhD project proposal has been designed to allow the candidate to travel to Manchester after baseline collection of mobile health data, to receive specific training in data analytics related to the Fitbit device.

Applications for this project are closed until further notice.

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Apply for a joint PhD with the University of Melbourne and the University of Manchester.

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