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Tuning in, treating pain

PhD student studies music as treatment

Setor Kofi Sorkpor, MPH, MSN, RN-BC

Music may “soothe the savage beast,” but can it help ease low back pain in older adults? That’s the question Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth PhD student Setor Kofi Sorkpor, MPH, MSN, RN-BC, will explore with the Speros Martel Endowment for the Aging Award he received in September 2020. 

Recent treatment guidelines recommend trying nonpharmacological therapies first when treating low back pain, which is very common among older populations. However, many providers fall back on writing prescriptions, perhaps due to a dearth of available information about other approaches, Sorkpor wrote in his grant proposal. 

“Low back pain often causes older adults to become more sedentary, which increases their risk for comorbidities such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” Sorkpor noted. “Yet some patients go undertreated because they want to avoid taking medications.” 

To measure pain, the study will employ functional near-infrared spectroscopy, an inexpensive neuroimaging technique, and other innovative observer-independent measures of pain, such as heart rate variability and conditioned pain modulation. Sorkpor’s mentor, Associate Professor Hyochol “Brian” Ahn, PhD, ANP-BC, uses a combination of these measures in other studies of nonpharmacological approaches to pain management. 

In his dissertation study, Sorkpor will recruit older adults age 65 and older with low back pain to listen to their favorite styles of music in the comfort of their homes while he remotely supervises them to assess the analgesic effect of listening to their preferred style of music, with baseline and post-intervention measures taking place in Dr. Ahn’s lab at Cizik School of Nursing.  

With a background in nursing and informatics, Sorkpor earned a post-master’s certificate in nursing education from Cizik School of Nursing after receiving his MSN in nursing informatics from Texas Tech University Health Science Center, MPH from the UTHealth School of Public Health, and BSN from UT Medical Branch School of Nursing.

Sherri Deatherage Green

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