Profile - Heather Muncey

Being made a CSP fellow in 2012 helped to cap Heather Muncey’s influential career. Helen Mooney reports

Over her long career, Heather Muncey has made a significant contribution to clinical practice in advancing physiotherapy knowledge.

For example, In 1995 she set up a clinical interest group in pain management.

This became the Physiotherapy Pain Association (PPA), to which she was elected first and honorary chair.

In 1998 she led the development of the first standards for physiotherapists working in pain management for the Physiotherapy Pain Association, and also contributed to the development of standards for pain management services for adults through the British Pain Society (BPS).

‘I am visually impaired which is why I came later to physiotherapy and didn’t qualify until I was 26. Before that I worked as a qualified psychiatric nurse,’ Ms Muncey explains.

‘In 1989 I started to focus my work on pain management as I was interested in why people were repeatedly coming for physiotherapy, for example with lower back pain, and not really managing.’

She went on to work at Frenchay Hospital’s pain management clinic in Bristol which became one of only four to spearhead a programme of work on pain management, she explains.

‘Very early in that development of pain management treatment in Bristol we could clearly see people’s quality of life getting better; once you see that it hooks you in.’

In 2000 Ms Muncey contributed to the development of national policy as the physiotherapist adviser to the UK Clinical Standards Advisory Group on Pain.

The first elected physio to the BPS council, she has also worked with the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) and assisted in the establishment of an international special interest group for physiotherapists.

In recognition of her service she was made an honorary member of BPS, the first physiotherapist to be so honoured.

‘Setting up the PPA had an impact on the international scene because it was the first time that physios working in pain management became organised and it has certainly been a model for other countries.’

Ms Muncey worked as clinical site supervisor for two of the UK centres in the ‘Back to Work’ research projects in 2000 and 2004, helping people with chronic lower back pain to return to work.  

She explains that at the time only around two per cent of people with the condition went back to work, a figure which jumped in ‘Back to Work’ centres to 37 per cent.

The government went on to use this as a model for the current ‘pathway to work’ scheme.

Ms Muncey was also the project manager for the ‘Co-creating Health’ programme in Bristol, which aimed to show that increasing self-management support leads to improved health outcomes for people with long-term conditions.

Now retired, Ms Muncey says the profession’s approach to pain management has changed ‘hugely’.

‘I think physiotherapists now understand what the issues are for people suffering pain.

‘It’s not just about looking at tissue damage but also about looking wider at the person. When I started we didn’t know about all the psychosocial effects.’ fl

Curriculum  vitae

  • Name: Heather Muncey
  • 1979 Qualified as physiotherapist, North London School of Physiotherapy
  • 1992 Musculoskeletal Association of Chartered Physiotherapists membership
  • 1998 Developed Physiotherapy Pain Association Standards in Pain Management
  • 2004 to 2005 Helped develop first pain guidelines for the British Pain Society
  • 2012 CSP fellowship
Helen Mooney

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