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Case studies

Hear from experienced researchers on getting started, overcoming setbacks and their career highlights. Please get in touch if you’ve got a research story you’d like to share.

Wessex REACH initiative - Case Study 1

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Paul Houghoughi - Consultant Physiotherapist and Musculoskeletal (MSK) Sonographer

Paul currently works as a consultant physiotherapist and MSK sonographer at BWT Physio in Poole, and was the physiotherapist for Team GB climbers at the 2020 Olympic Games. Paul’s work primarily focuses on researching, diagnosing and treating sports injuries, as he explains.

What was your first healthcare-related job, and how did your career progress from there?

When I qualified as a physio the NHS was undergoing major reforms which meant junior posts were extremely scarce. My first healthcare-related job was as a rehab assistant in London. I got to cycle around Islington every day on a folding bike to assess patients that had recently been discharged from hospital. The job was brilliant!

 

After landing my first physio role in the NHS I quickly specialised in musculoskeletal injuries and began working privately in the evenings at a climbing wall and large mixed martial arts gym. At that point I knew my career would be dedicated to treating active and health-conscious people.

 

Over a decade later I am working as a consultant physiotherapist and MSK sonographer, lecturing part-time at university and recently returned from the 2020 [Olympic] Games in Japan where I worked as the lead physio for GBR Climbing.

Can you tell us about someone who inspired or encouraged you on your research journey?

Dr. Claire Minshull is a researcher in sport and exercise medicine. She breaks down research around exercise in a logical and incredibly practical way and is someone who inspired me to think analytically about my work. By that token it is important to me that a research project looks to provide answers that are easy to understand and immediately applicable to real world problems.

How did research fit in with your existing work and with other aspects of your life?

Working in a busy clinic and treating people from all walks of life, from elite athletes to ambitious weekend warriors, means I am never short of inspiration to find solutions to problems I encounter every day. I oversee government funded research and development projects at BWT Physio which I manage to run in real-time alongside my daily practice.

 

I have also been climbing for over 25 years and I’m really interested in finding new ways to treat climbing-specific finger injuries, many of which are relatively new to research owing to the highly specific nature of the sport. I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by some brilliant minds in the climbing world which give me plenty of opportunities to develop ideas and practices.

What have been your biggest challenges in research, and how have you overcome them?

Injury and trauma can be complicated and chaotic which poses obvious challenges when it comes to research. The goal is to always try and focus on finding simple solutions to complex problems.

What’s been your biggest achievement so far? Which research project(s) are you most proud of?

I am too new to research to be listing achievements, but I am pleased to be trying to find answers to questions that are important in my profession. I am currently looking at the efficacy of different loading protocols in stimulating tendon healing in acute rotator cuff tears using ultrasound imaging and strain gauge testing as objective measures. The initial findings have been encouraging, and I am excited to build on what we have learnt over the last year.

If you could work on any other research programme or with any other researcher in the world, what or who would it be and why?

People like Volker Schoffl and Eva Lopez are pioneers in finger-specific climbing injuries and training respectively, and I enjoy seeing their work inspiring therapists and climbers to think more critically about how they operate. It would be great to be able to dedicate more time to larger RCT [randomised controlled trials] studies with people like them and Dr Minshull – but I honestly cannot imagine finding the time to do this at the moment.

Have you been able to see the results of your research used in a healthcare setting? What was it like seeing the impact on real patients?

Yes. There was a sharp spike in people running over lockdown, and with that came increases in the number of running-related injuries. I spent the first year of lockdown developing a protocol to help improve the efficacy of ultrasound imaging to detect acute and chronic stress fractures which was incredibly useful as they are common when runners suddenly increase output but can be subtle enough to be missed on x-ray imaging.

 

It was great to be able to provide this service because stress fractures can develop into complicated, long-term problems if left undiagnosed. 

What advice would you give to someone starting their research career, or to someone who is looking to return to research?

Focus on what gets you excited and not what other people want you to do.

And finally, what three things can you tell us about yourself that we couldn’t learn from your CV?

1.  I have collected stamps since I was a child and have every British stamp printed between 1840 and 2000.

2.  I’m half-Iranian and half-Welsh. 

3.  I live in Dorset with my wife and two children, whom I love even more than my stamp collection!

A huge thank you to Paul for sharing his story with Wessex REACH. If you’d like to find out more, visit www.tobesupplied.co.uk

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The Wessex REACH initiative is supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The views expressed on this website are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.