Dr Valerie Sparkes

Dr Valerie Sparkes

Reader: Physiotherapy & Director of Innovation & Impact

School of Healthcare Sciences

+44 (0)29 206 87560
Room 13.11, 13th Floor, Eastgate House, 35-43 Newport Road, Cardiff. CF24 0AB

Other Roles

Director of Innovation & Impact

Research Interests

Spinal pain
  • Spinal pain and dysfunction, including neuromuscular control of muscles, muscle imbalance in spinal pain, disc degeneration and the resultant motor control dysfunction; the effect of spinal surgery on lumbar multifidus; differences between lumbar and thoracic spinal control; movement patterns in patients with disc degeneration;
    • Key Projects: The effect of neuromuscular control training on spinal repositioning; The effect of spinal repositioning during walking on back pain.
  • Rehabilitation of back pain patients which include motor control training involving proprioceptive training, spinal stabilisation exercises, cognitive behavioural approaches. The effectiveness of rehabilitation programmes on recovery following spinal surgery.
  • Postural control in sitting combined with the effect of fatigue on neuromuscular control and spinal posture.
  • Gait analysis in Spinal disorders
Classification of back pain
  • The effect of neuromuscular training on specific sub groups in patients with low back pain.
Sports injuries
  • The effect of bowling technique/ bowling load on spinal injures.
  • The effect of fatigue on spinal curvature and muscle activity during rowing on an ergometer.
  • The effect of spinal stabilisation exercises on transversus abdominus an multifidus in rugby players.
Differential diagnosis of pain
  • The thoracic spine as a source of pain.
  • Differential diagnosis of abdominal pain from musculoskeletal pain.

Clinical Work Experience

Prior to working at Cardiff University, I spent 18 years in clinical work specialising in musculoskeletal out-patient physiotherapy including sports injuries. I worked in the NHS at Addenbrooke's NHS Trust, Cambridge and Private Practice in Cambridge. In my last post I worked in the Rheumatology Clinics as an Extended Scope practitioner triaging patients with spinal pain.

My academic work included projects on differential diagnosis of abdominal pain, working with Professor J Hunter, auditing of the management of Spinal Pain within out-patients and research into the effects of different exercise programmes on outcomes following spinal surgery.

Cardiff University - My main teaching and research interests are in musculoskeletal physiotherapy, including sports injuries with a special interest in spinal dysfunction and referral of the visceral structures to the musculoskeletal system.

I am Postgraduate Coordinator for MSc Physiotherapy, Module leader for Neuro-musculoskeletal physiotherapy; Tissues, Systems and Functional Analysis, and Sports Injuries assessment and management.

At BSc level I am Module leader for Research, Musculoskeletal Research team leader and the BSc project co-ordinator.

I review papers for Manual Therapy and Physiotherapy and review funding applications for Action Research and the Physiotherapy Research Foundation.

Professional memberships

I am a member of The Welsh Institute of Sport Exercise and Health, The Manipulation Association of Chartered Physiotherapists, The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports Medicine, Cardiff Institute of Tissue Engineering and Repair (CITER).

Committees and reviewing

My main teaching involves musculoskeletal assessment and treatment, research methods and research ethics at BSc level as well as teaching medical students. At MSc level I teach musculoskeletal topics including spinal dysfunction with special emphasis on the thoracic spine and visceral referral patterns. Within the sports modules I teach clinical reasoning with special reference to differential diagnosis of symptoms.

Within Tissues Systems and Functional Analysis I teach spinal biomechanics and spinal anatomy as well as using real time ultrasound for muscle imaging of transversus abdominus and multifidus. Within Research Methods at MSc level I teach research ethics.

I examine for Membership of the Manipulation Association of Chartered Physiotherapists.

Project Supervision - I supervise BSc and MSc projects with a special focus on spinal dysfunction including the effect of sitting and standing on spinal alignment and muscle activity. The effect of fatigue on spinal muscles and spinal curvature in rowing. Other projects include Gluteal muscle function and strength and its relationship to knee angle in runners and cyclists.

My main research interests are in spinal pain and dysfunction. This focuses on the effect of spinal pain on muscle activity with particular reference to the spinal and abdominal muscles. The main focus of work is the neuromuscular control of movement including repositioning error, and muscle activity and the effects on neuromuscular training on these factors.

Methods of measurement used are surface electromyography (EMG), VICON camera system and real time ultrasound.

Other work focuses on the effects of back pain on gait parameters including spinal motion.

Future research is based on classification systems in back and shoulder pain and their relationship to physical parameters including inflammatory biomarkers.

I collaborate with members of The Connective Tissue Biology Research group based in the Department of BioSciences, Cardiff University.

I am a member of and sit on the Research Committee of the Cardiff Institute of Tissue Engineering and Repair (CITER) which encourages multidisciplinary finding applications and work.

I am a member of and sit on the Executive Committee of The Society of Back Pain Research.