Keeping Australians on their feet

Posted on March 4, 2011

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La Trobe University health scientist, Hylton Menz, has received one of only two prestigious Fulbright Senior Scholarships awarded in Australia this year.
 
A leading researcher into foot and mobility disorders faced by an increasingly ageing population, Professor Menz is Director of La Trobe’s Musculoskeletal Research Centre.

His Fulbright Scholarship will take him to the Institute for Aging Research at Harvard University for five months.

Professor Menz says one in three Australians over 65 years of age will fall in any given year. Health care costs associated with this are estimated at $498 million annually – a figure expected to triple by 2051.

‘The University is delighted with Professor Menz’s achievement,’ says Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research, Tim Brown. ‘There were only two such awards, so this is a particular mark of distinction.’

Professor Brown said La Trobe University, in the recent government ERA research report, rated ‘well above world standard’ for its studies into human movement.

‘Hylton’s research output made a significant contribution to this accolade, and we congratulate him on his Fulbright award,’ Professor Brown added.

‘Foot disorders are far from trivial complaints,’ says Professor Menz. ‘They are a common but largely under-researched public health problem.’

‘There is strong evidence that foot pain and deformity have a significant impact on quality of life and risk of falls and injury in later life.’

His research in the USA will identify factors that increase the risk of developing foot pain, the impact such pain has on physical functioning, and the way foot disorders contribute to symptoms in other parts of the body.

It will use a sample of men and women from the Framingham Foot Study cohort, derived from two large population-based samples of residents of Framingham, Massachusetts.

Professor Menz has combined his clinical background as a podiatrist with physiology studies to examine mobility issues in older people.
While there has been a lot of general research into falls and balance, very little has been done specifically about foot and ankle problems,’ he says.

His work aims to understand and help prevent the onset of foot pain and disability and design more effective treatments.

Professor Menz says surveys of foot disorders in hospitals and clinics reveal very high rates – up to 80 percent – while larger community studies reported lower, yet still substantial rates of 30 to 40 percent.

He says 1.3 million podiatry consultations costing $62.9 million were recorded by Medicare between 2004 and 2008.  People aged over 65 accounted for 75 percent of these consultations.

‘Women are more likely to suffer from foot problems than men, possibly due to the detrimental influence of fashion footwear, with high heels and a constrictive toe-box.’

Professor Menz’s research into the epidemiology and management of foot disorders in older people has received substantial support from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.

With national and international collaborators, he also works on improving the mobility of people with Parkinson’s disease, including home-based rehabilitation methods; identifying the risk of falls before and after total knee replacement surgery; and the effectiveness of treatments for a range of musculoskeletal foot and ankle disorders.

Professor Menz is editor of the ‘Journal of Foot and Ankle Research’. He has won many awards and prizes including a Young Tall Poppy Science Award (2006), a British Medical Association Book Award (2009), a La Trobe University Excellence in Research Award (2009) and an Honorary Fellowship of the UK Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists (2010).

He has co-authored three books and written chapters for another eight, in addition to publishing more than 130 papers in peer-reviewed journals.