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Professor Valerie Sparkes

Professor Valerie Sparkes

Director: Biomechanics and Bioengineering Research Centre Versus Arthritis

School of Healthcare Sciences

+44 (0)29 206 87560
Room 13.11, Eastgate House, Newport Road, Cardiff, CF24 0AB
Available for postgraduate supervision


Other Roles

Director, Arthrits Research UK Biomechanics and Bioengineering Center

Director of Innovation & Impact

Hon Secretary British Orthopaedic Research Association

Research Interests

Spinal pain
  • My main focus of my reserach is investigating spinal pain and dysfunction, including neuromuscular control of muscles, muscle imbalance in spinal pain, disc degeneration, vertebral osteoarthritis and the resultant motor control dysfunction.
    • My current key projects are developing content for technology to deliver self-management programmes for low back pain and other neuromusculoskeletal  disorders
  • Rehabilitation of back pain patients which include motor control training involving proprioceptive training, cognitive behavioural approaches.
  • 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
  • Our reserach group  focuses on delivering targetted treatments for specific subgroups of people with low back pain using targetted biomechanically based interventions
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 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 Chartered  Soceity of Physiotherapists,The Manipulation Association of Chartered Physiotherapists, British Orthopaedic Research Society,and teh  Cardiff Institute of Tissue Engineering and Repair (CITER).





















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.

I work with a multidisciplinary team within the Arthritis Research UK Biomechanics and Bioenineering Center investigating the causes  and management of musculoskeletal realted disorders with particular reference to  spinal and knee pain. My main focus is developing targetted treatments and developing interventions for spianl disorders.

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

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

I am Honorary Secretary of the British Orthopaedic  Research Society.


Developing technologies to deliver treatments for neuromsuculoskeletal disorders

Classification  and development of interventions for low back pain

Areas of expertise