NIH Grant Funds Study of Lower Back Pain

Jo Armour Smith
Jo Armour Smith

More than 80 percent of the population at some point will suffer from lower back pain, which accounts for more disability cases than any other medical condition, the National Institutes of Health reports. Chapman University Professor Jo Armour Smith has been awarded a five-year, $639,155 grant from the NIH to study how posture and brain organization affect back pain progression in young adults.

Smith, Ph.D., assistant professor of physical therapy in the Crean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences, said that she found herself both intrigued and challenged when treating adults with lower back pain during her clinical work. Doctors are unsure what causes the condition or how to treat it, aside from pain medications and physical therapy.

Smith plans to study the movement of 50 young adults ages 18-30 who experience recurring lower back pain, hoping to discover why for some people the condition remains the same, while others see their symptoms worsen to a chronic state. She will study movement while participants complete typical tasks, both inside and outside an MRI scanner. She hopes to gain insight into which parts of the brain control specific movements.

If at-risk patients and factors associated with this type of pain can be identified, more effective treatment options can be considered, Smith said.