Dr Sarah L Astill


I graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Physiology and Sport Science in July 2000. I remained at the University of Leeds, and undertook a PhD examining neuromotor control in children with movement difficulties. Following this I was employed as a teaching/research fellow at Leeds (2004-2006) before moving to the School of Health Sciences at the University of Southampton as a RCUK Postdoctoral Research Fellow (2006-2008), working in the Life Sciences Interface Research Group.   I joined the University of Leeds as a Lecturer in Motor Control in October 2008.  I am currently Programme Manager for Sport and Exercise Sciences, following a period as Director for Student Education (Sport and Exercise Sciences; 2014-2018).


  • Programme Manager; Sport and Exercise Sciences

Research interests

Research in my lab uses motion analysis (kinematics), surface electromyography (sEMG) and non-invasive stimulation techniques (e.g.TMS) to elucidate a mechanistic account of how upper limb movements, such as reaching, grasping and catching are controlled and learnt/re-learnt.  This basic science contributes to an ever growing evidence base to inform the development of new approaches to aid functional recovery of arm and hand function in a variety of clinical populations (e.g. individuals with a cervical spinal cord injury (cSCI), neurodevelopmental disorders). In addition, this research also underpins my translational work which examines how we might best combine task specific practice, stimulation paradigms, and exercise bouts or regimes to drive CNS plasticity and maximise functional capacity.  Specific examples of my current work are outlined below.

Upper Limb Movement Control and Rehabilitation

Research in my lab has been examining the control of reaching and grasping movements of individuals with an incomplete cervical spinal cord injury (cSCI), in addition to children with neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. Developmental Coordination Disorder and Cerebral Palsy).  More specifically, we have been documenting the control deficits observed during one and two handed reaching and grasping tasks using sEMG and kinematic analysis, how multisensory inforamtion affects these actions, and more recently elucidating control mechanisms underinning reactive and/or predictive grip force.  Moving forward this body of work has started to investigate how best to use transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TCES) with peripheral stimulation and physical therapy to optimise arm and hand function in indiviuals with either a cSCI or Cerebral Palsy.

The Role of Physical Activity and Exercise in Maintaining Motor Function

This area of research concerns the role that physical activity has in developing and maintaining motor function across the life and health span.  Work is examining the relationship between (multi) sensory information, motor function and physical acitivty preferences and participation in children with and without a developmental disorder.  In addition, in a collaboration with One Dance UK I am PI on a Sport England funded project, ‘Dance On’ that has been commissioned to develop, implement and evaluate how community dance programs might increase physical activity in older community dwelling women. This project will also examine how dance affects balance and mobility, cognitive function and social isolation, helping to prevent falls.  Other research invovles understanding the role physical activity might play in managing long term conditions such as chronic pain, MS and spinal cord injury. 

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://biologicalsciences.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD Neuromotor Control in Children with Devlopmental Coordination Disorder
  • BSc (Hons) Physiology and Sport Science
  • FHEA

Student education

Iam currently programme leader for the Msci/Bsc Sport and Exercise Science degree programme, and sit on our Undergraduate Taught Student Education Committee (UGTSEC).  In addition I contribute to modules across the degree programme, teaching on our skills modules at levels 1 and 2, and motor control modules across all 3 levels. I also supervise BSc and Msci (hons) students, and Msc Sport and Exercise Science Medicine stduents for their final year projects.


Research groups and institutes

  • Sport and Exercise Sciences
  • Neuroscience
<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>