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Dr Rob Froud

Dr Rob FroudDr Rob Froud is a senior research fellow at Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, and also holds a post at the University College of Health Sciences, Campus Kristiania, in Norway.

What does your work involve?

I am researching the effects long-standing back pain has on people’s lives, what matters most to people in pain and how we can improve the way we measure these aspects in clinical research. I work with people with chronic low back pain, as well as clinicians and researchers. The work I do involves a range of different approaches, from advanced statistical modelling of treatment effects or how well outcome measurements are performing, to in-depth interviews with patients.

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

Arthritis Research UK has been funding me since 2011, when I worked at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry. My current funding is for a three-year research project to explore the improvement of outcome measurement in patients with low back pain and what matters most to people in terms of their recovery.

What’s the most important thing you have found out in the past 12 months? And why?

I think that one of the most important things we have found in the past 12 months is the extent to which back pain can pervade so many different aspects of the lives of sufferers. What our new data tell us is that having chronic back pain can have many knock-on effects; from affecting relationships and socialising, to affecting a person’s mental health. Also, since it is essentially an invisible condition, people with low back pain can often struggle to be believed, experiencing stigma at work and socially. It may be that we also need to work on changing society’s attitudes to back pain. 

What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of your Arthritis Research UK funding?

It has improved our understanding of the impact and reach of back pain. The results of our work will be useful to doctors and healthcare professionals.  Also, we will be able to provide data and recommendations that can be used to inform development of a next generation of outcome measures so that they better capture what matters to patients. 

What do you do in a typical day?

Each day starts with a cup of tea. My diary for the day will likely be dotted with meetings, student tutorials, or field research, and in between these I will write or analyse data. I will try to fit some exercise into my day, which may be a run, a bike ride or a walk. Apart from keeping me healthy, I find this also allows me to work more efficiently and increases productivity. Sometimes it helps me solve problems too!

What is your greatest research achievement?

I would like to think that this is my work on improving the reporting of back pain trials. So much money is spent on funding clinical trials that explore which treatments are most effective. It is therefore crucial that the reports of these trials are as clear and as useful as possible. It is important to involve patients in developing the new outcome measures as when the last generation of back pain outcome measures were created in the 1980s that wasn’t something that was always done very well.

Why did you choose to do this work?

I chose my career because it provided me with a way to do things I like (for example solving problems, working with numbers and working with others) while also allowing me to put these interests to good use. I also enjoy the sense of exploration – there is nothing quite like the feeling of uncovering something new.

Do you ever think about how your work can help people with arthritis?

Yes. Often our work requires us to focus in on small esoteric aspects of research, which are certainly important to understand, but I think that there is a need to remember that the ‘big picture’ is composed of many tiny interconnecting aspects, and that ultimately it is the big picture that is important as well as the impact that the research has on improving the lives of people with arthritis. 

What would you do if you weren’t a clinician/researcher? 

If I wasn't exploring arthritis and related conditions then I think that I would be exploring something else; whether that was up a mountain, at the bottom of an ocean, or my favourite – in a galaxy far, far away! 

About Rob

I enjoy amateur astronomy and can often be found peering up at stars and planets.  My favourite way to unwind is to cook and enjoy a relaxing Sunday afternoon film or a walk with family, friends, and pets. 

This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Winter 2014, issue 163.
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