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Meet the Researcher

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

Dr. Nancy Gyurcsik, University of Saskatchewan

Can you describe your area of research and how it is helping address a health-related issue in Saskatchewan?

Chronic pain affects about 25% of the Saskatchewan population, aged 15+ years. Physical activity is recommended as a first-line, person-centred strategy to help adults better manage their chronic pain. Unfortunately, the majority of adults living with chronic pain struggle to be active. The goal of my research program is to help adults engage in physical activity for better pain management.

In my research program, I work with my co-principal investigator, Dr. Susan Tupper (Saskatchewan Health Authority), as well as a fantastic group of national and international colleagues, provincial knowledge users, including the Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation, and Saskatchewan adults living with chronic pain. Through a dynamic and iterative multi-year research process, we have focused on identifying, developing, and testing community-based strategies to help adults living with chronic pain to be more active.

To date, we have developed and tested a chronic pain and physical activity training workshop for exercise professionals, who include fitness instructors and personal trainers. Our workshop is effective in increasing exercise professionals’ knowledge about chronic pain and their confidence in their abilities to instruct and educate their participants living with chronic pain. Some of this exciting multi-year research was funded by SHRF via a Collaborative Innovation Development grant.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your work?

I would say that there are two most rewarding aspects of my work.

First, working with the many Saskatchewan adults living with chronic pain and knowledge users, including Saskatchewan exercise professionals and the Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association, on our research is rewarding. Our research journey has been driven by and continually informed by their needs and ideas for improvement. Their belief in what we are trying to accomplish through our collaborative research is very rewarding. Knowing that we are on our way to ensuring that appropriately trained exercise professionals will be available to help adults living with chronic pain have a better quality of life is extremely rewarding.

Second, working with our core team of researchers including Dr. Susan Tupper (Saskatchewan Health Authority) and Dr. Danielle Brittain (Colorado School of Public Health), our community physical activity community consultant, Don Ratcliffe-Smith, and the many graduate student research assistants over the years has been very rewarding. Our team is energized, driven, and inspired by the same goal – to help more Saskatchewan and eventually Canadian adults to be regularly active and better manage their chronic pain. The team is truly a wonderful group of people to be around, which adds to the positivity of doing our research.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

One of the most challenging aspects of my work is knowing that many adults living with chronic pain lack access to appropriately trained exercise professionals. Sometimes I wish I could speed up our research program so that we can reach our end goal of having appropriately trained exercise professionals much more quickly. However, I know that we are well on our way to having a lasting impact that is backed by evidence provided by our collaborative research.

How did you first become interested in this area of research? What inspires you to do the work that you do?

As a former university athlete, I experience chronic pain myself. As a researcher, I became interested in identifying psychological factors that help people living with chronic pain participate in physical activity. One example of these factors is having the know-how and confidence to use strategies to cope with pain and related barriers to physical activity. In lockstep, I became interested in working collaboratively with other researchers, knowledge users, and persons living with chronic pain to identify, develop, and test community-based strategies to help those living with chronic pain learn the skills needed to be regularly active. My inspiration are the many people in Saskatchewan and beyond who live with chronic pain but lack access to appropriately trained professionals to help them navigate starting and maintaining a physically active lifestyle.

Where is your research headed in the next five years?

We have a number of exciting new studies planned that will investigate how to best ensure that exercise professionals who are trained in our workshop positively impact physical activity participation and adherence among their participants living with chronic pain. Once we know this, we aim to put our training workshop online to reach exercise professionals across Saskatchewan and the country. The end goal is to have qualified exercise professionals in rural and urban locations who are trained in our workshop and who help adult Canadians regularly engage in physical activity and better manage their chronic pain.

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