Jonathan is the Director of Research for the School of Allied Health Professionals and is Professor of Physiotherapy, in the Keele School of Medicine.

He completed his BSc in Physiotherapy in 1994 at Manchester Royal Infirmary, where he also undertook an MSc in 1995. He worked for 4 years in clinical practice including in Stoke-on-Trent UK, Vellore India, Perth Australia, and Derby in England.

His research career began in 1999 at the Primary Care Centre in Keele University, as a research assistant for Professor Krysia Dziedzic, later undertaking a PhD (2004-2007) to develop and validate the STarT Back Tool and matched treatments through a feasibility and pilot trial (under the supervision of Elaine Hay and Kate Dunn). Following a 5-year post-doc fellowship award from Arthritis Research UK as a Lecturer in Physiotherapy he led the full trial of the risk stratified STarT Back approach for back pain supported by Elaine Hay (published in The Lancet in 2011).

Jonathan’s overall aim is to improve the assessment and management of musculoskeletal (MSK) pain, particularly in primary care where it is mostly treated. Despite being highly prevalent and one of the leading causes of the global burden of disease, MSK pain has not received the research attention it deserves.

His primary research focus is on large multi-centre clinical trials to test new treatments, including the testing of innovative digital solutions. Building on Keele’s international reputation in MSK pain, he has led risk stratification research that has transformed clinical practice worldwide such as STarT Back Trial [Hill et al 2011, published in The Lancet], and STarT MSK Trial [Hill et al 2021, under review]. STarT Back has resulted in fundamental changes to policy (e.g. NICE LBP guidelines 2016) and international patient care (e.g. UK (BOA pathway 2017, Danish Health Authority, 2017, US Bree Collaborative 2013). He also currently involved with helping to lead the SupportBack 2 trial, the SupportPRIM trial, and the OPTIMSE trial.

A second key research area is Jonathan’s leadership to improve the measurement of MSK disorders. For example, in 2016, he published the MSK Health Questionnaire (MSK-HQ) that is now routinely used in clinical practice with >500 NHS Trusts having a license to use it. He has also pioneered MSK digital solutions, such as new clinical decision support systems. For example, he recently led a team of 10 Keele academic colleagues as part of a large European Horizon 2020 project to develop and test a cloud-based clinical decision support tool (Back-UP) for first contact back and neck pain, across nine countries. He is currently helping to lead 2 workpackages within the MIDAS research programme to link place-based, GP and NHS data together and he is also supporting his colleague Roanna Burgess to set-up a new National MSK Audit using the Keele MSK Community Services Dataset.


Research and scholarship

Professor Hill is currently leading the following research projects at Keele including:

Jonathan’s research innovations include:

  1. the Musculoskeletal Health Questionnaire, which is a validated outcome measure that can be used across MSK conditions and settings.
  2. The STarT MSK Tool
  3. The STarT Back Tool
  4. The Midlands FCP Template for EMIS
  5. The National MSK Patient Reported Experience Measure (PREM)
  6. The Keele MSK community services data set


Professor Hill has experience as a physiotherapy educator and in MSc module development. He currently teaches medical students and physiotherapists, along with supervising student research projects. Specific courses at Keele he is involved with include: the Research Methods Module for the Faculty of Health, the Keele Prognosis Short Course, the STarT Back high risk training course, the Keele Clinical Trials short course, and the Management of complex pain for medical students.



Jonathan has had six PhD students (four as lead supervisor successfully completed; two ongoing [one as lead]), and eight pre-doctoral, MSc, summer and intercalated students producing 23 papers and is an active research mentor for early career researchers [with backgrounds including physiotherapy, psychology, radiography, rheumatology, and general practice].

Four completed PhD students:

  • Dr Roanna Burgess (March 2022) “Benchmarking community and primary care musculoskeletal services: developing recommendations using evidence synthesis, consensus methods and secondary data analysis.”
  • Dr Hollie Birkinshaw (March 2021) “Investigating the use of stratified primary care for older adults with musculoskeletal pain: a mixed methods study”
  • Dr Cliona McRobert (Dec 2017) “Primary care decision making for shoulder pain: identifying treatment effect moderators using clinical expertise”
  • Dr Gemma Mansell (Dec 2016) “Methodological Challenges in Treatment Mediation Analysis: Examples from Studies Targeting Psychological Factors in Patients with Musculoskeletal Pain”

Two ongoing PhD students:

  • Marcus Bateman (July 2020 - March 2024) “Optimising Physiotherapy for People with Tennis Elbow [a feasibility pilot trial”. This PhD is funded by an NIHR Doctoral Fellowship.
  • Enza Leone (April 2021 – April 2025) “Best practice upper limb rehabilitation for patients with Facioscapulohumeral dystrophy (FSHD)”. This PhD is funded by an internal Keele Doctoral Fund.

Collaboration and grant awards


  • Adam Geraghty – University of Southampton, UK
  • Allan Riis - Research Unit for General Practice, Department of Clinical Medicine, Aalborg University, Denmark
  • David Christiansen - Occupational Medicine, Danish Ramazzini Centre, Regional Hospital West Jutland - University Research Clinic, Herning, Denmark
  • Emma Dunphy – UCL, UK
  • Deborah Falla - Centre of Precision Rehabilitation for Spinal Pain, Birmingham University, UK
  • Hana Alsobayel – King Saud University, Saudi Arabia
  • Jordan Miller – Queens University, Canada
  • Karen Walker-Bone – Monash University, Australia
  • Lars Morsoe - Centre for Quality, Department of Regional Health Research, University of Southern Denmark, Denmark
  • Mary O’Keefe – Sydney University, Australia
  • Ottar Vasseljen – NTNU, Norway

Grant awards

Year Total value Title Role
2022 £64,327 Optimising the Midlands First Contact Practitioner (FCP) medical record template to increase its useability, acceptability, and usefulness for FCP services in UK primary care Co-applicant
2022 £72,000 National MSK Audit in Community and Primary Care Co-applicant
2022 £69,620.79 Building capacity in achieving clinical transformation from Allied Health Professional digital evaluations Chief Investigator
2022 £167,953 NHSx Digital Project- Enhancing First Contact Practitioners (FCPs) management of low back pain using STarT Back approach and the Self Back APP Co-investigator
2021 £1,200,000 Optimizing management of musculoskeletal pain disorders in primary care (SUPPORTPRIM) Co-investigator
2020 £1,262,787 Integrating enriched, longitudinal multi-level data for local population musculoskeletal health intelligence: North Staffordshire & Stoke-on-Trent (MIDAS) Workpackage Principal Investigator
2020 £13,224.00 OPTimisE - Optimising Physiotherapy for Tennis Elbow PhD Lead Supervisor
2018 £203,960 Chartered Society of Physiotherapy on “First Contact Practitioner Evaluation” Co-investigator
2018 £1,300,000 NHS NIHR HTA grant “Supporting self-management of low back pain with an internet intervention in primary care: A randomised controlled trial of clinical and cost-effectiveness (SupportBack2)” Co-investigator and Keele CTU lead
2018 £4,580,000 EU Horizon 2020 grant: “Personalised prognostic models to improve wellbeing and return to work after neck and low back pain (Back-UP)” Workpackage Principal Investigator

School of Allied Health Professions
MacKay Building
Keele University

AHP Placements Team:
Postgraduate Course Admin Team:
Undergraduate Course Admin Team: