Scott, Alex

Scott, Alex Scott_Alex.jpg
Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Therapy, UBC

Areas of Specialization

  • Ergonomics
  • Workplace health
  • Intramuscular stimulation
  • Orthopedics
  • Muscles and joints
  • Sports therapy
  • Tendinopathy
  • Sports medicine
  • Physiotherapy
  • Kinesiology
  • Experimental medicine

Dr. Scott is a graduate of the UBC Physical Therapy program, and the UBC Experimental Medicine PhD program. His research targets a widespread problem, overuse injuries and chronically painful tendon disorder in workers and athletes. His research has been highlighted and supported locally by organizations including the WorksafeBC, Professional Association of BC and the Health Sciences Association, nationally through CIHR sponsored events and seminars, and internationally including sponsorship by the Canada-Scandinavia Foundation and the Swedish Research Council. He maintains active collaborations with Oslo University, Umeå University, and University of Paris. His work has been incorporated into widely used web-based clinical guidelines such as UpToDate©, and the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy clinical guideline on Achilles tendinopathy.

One summer many years ago, while working as a landscaper, Alex Scott suffered a back injury and ended up in rehab. He found out first hand how physiotherapy can make the difference between a full life and one restricted by pain and limited mobility.

His experience that summer made such an impression that Scott changed the course of his academic career at the University of British Columbia (UBC), switching from Arts with a major in anthropology to Sciences and the Department of Physical Therapy. He went on to earn his Masters in kinesiology and a PhD in the UBC Experimental Medicine program.

Today, as a physiotherapist, associate professor in UBC’s Department of Physical Therapy and research scientist at the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility (CHHM), Scott is making a difference of his own. His research is helping improve treatments for the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who struggle with the pain and disability of tendon injuries every year.

“People don’t often think about their tendons,” Scott says, “but they’re in our knees, hips, shoulders, elbows wrists and heels. And the level of disability if they’re injured, whether through overuse or rupture, can be as great as that of osteoarthritis.”

In fact, Scott says he regularly receives emails from people dealing with chronic tendon injuries, formally known as tendinopathy, who say they are desperate to find relief. While some of these injuries are work or sports related, many are simply from age. Half of people 60 and up, Scott says, will experience some form of tendon trouble, most commonly in the shoulders. With an aging population, that means the incidence of tendinopathy and tendon rupture is headed in one direction—up.

To date, with sparse quality research available, the condition is little understood, says Scott. And that means many of the treatments being touted are questionable—with sometimes-heartrending results.

Scott knows of one elite young athlete who had a promising career in both baseball and basketball, until the tendons in both knees started giving him trouble. In desperation, the young man underwent a popular, but unproven injection therapy and his condition only got worse.

With the resources available at CHHM, Scott is working to prevent such . “We’re a leading Centre with a culture of high-quality, clinically conducted research, leading-edge technologies, and internationally renowned thinkers and scholars.”

Scott is investigating the effectiveness of commonly used treatments such as exercise, anti-inflammatory gels, intramuscular stimulation (a form of acupuncture therapy) and injection therapies such as platelet-rich plasma shots. “The only treatment for tendinopathy with strong evidence is exercise, yet many therapists are using the gels, acupuncture and injections. We need a higher level of evidence than just clinical anecdotes or testimony.” Scott also runs an active research laboratory exploring the possibility of new biologically targeted treatments based on recent insights into tendon pathology.

Scott is also examining why certain people develop injury from tendon overuse and others don’t. “Knowing the risk factors can help prevent the condition in the first place,” Scott says. “This is important because at the moment, there is no way to completely restore an injured tendon back to normal.

Meantime, with publications in several prestigious international journals such as Arthritis and Rheumatism, the British Journal of Sports Medicine and the Lancet, Scott’s insights are quickly being translated from paper to practice—with benefits for both patients and practitioners.

Clinicians can point their patients in the direction of treatments proven to be effective—and patients don’t waste time, energy and hope on those unsubstantiated by the evidence.