Bendigo's Three Minute Thesis champion changing future of shoulder treatment

Three minutes is barely long enough to hard-boil an egg.

But in that time, La Trobe University PhD candidate Sangeeta Rathi can explain four years’ worth of research. 

The St John of God hospital physiotherapist has won the right to represent La Trobe in the Asia Pacific final of the Three Minute Thesis competition, a contest in which researchers are asked to explain the crux of their work in no longer than 180 seconds.

Her subject matter? Shoulder joints. 

While Ms Rathi conceded a shoulder injury was far from fatal, she said finding new ways to treat joint pain could radically improve patients’ quality of life.  

In the course of her work, she saw people struggling to drive or do the gardening because of crippling discomfort in their shoulders.

“It can make people feel really frustrated and disabled,” Ms Rathi said. 

But little is known about the way the body part’s muscles – known as the rotator cuff –  function, and the ease with which an arm bone can slip out of its socket means everyone is at risk of injury, not just athletes and ageing people. 

Ms Rathi’s research is groundbreaking because it is the first of its kind to use living humans as its subjects, with past studies only being conducted on cadavers. 

By inserting electrodes into her subjects’ rotator cuffs, as well as conducting ultrasounds, Ms Rathi was able to see how the muscles worked and how much the arm bone moves inside of them. 

While medics previously thought the shoulder muscles worked together, the La Trobe student’s work has revealed they operate independent of one another, and work differently depending on the position of the arm. 

“By finding all these new answers, we can design more successful treatment programs, and this will help to fix your sore shoulder,” she said in her presentation.  

Asked how she reduced something so complex into the three-minute spiel, Ms Rathi said she imagined explaining it to her parents.

“I kept them in mind when I wrote my script.” 

The 3MT final takes place on Friday, September 30, at the University of Queensland, and will see Ms Rathi compete against representatives of 50 other universities from Australia, New Zealand and Asia.  

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