Physical Therapy Research

The faculty and students in the Department of Physical Therapy engage in a variety of research.  Learn more about the Physical Therapy research areas below.

Rehabilitation intervention

Studies focus on the elements of care used to enhance, maintain, and restore quality of life and functional ability for individual with physical​ neurological impairments and/or disabilities. Examination of actions are taken to facilitate acquisition, maintenance, restoration, or improvement in an individual's health, functional abilities, and/or quality of life.​

Blood flow restriction exercises

Blood flow restriction exercise is emerging as a potential method to increase muscle size and strength. Research focuses on testing effects of blood flow restriction exercises in clinical populations with orthopedic impairments.

Email Dr. Williams for more information

Recent publication on blood flow restriction exercises

  • Kilgas MA, DenHerder AE, Lytle LLM, Williams CT, Elmer SJ. Home-Based Exercise With Blood Flow Restriction to Improve Quadriceps Muscle and Physical Function After Total Knee Arthroplasty: A Case Report. Phys Ther. 2019;99(11):1495-1500. doi:10.1093/ptj/pzz110.

Rehabilitation devices

Research involves testing and validation of assistive devices used by individuals to improve or compensate for impaired motor functions.   One of the studies tests feasibility of using the NewGait rehabilitative device in patients with gait impairments due to various neurological disorders, including stroke, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson's Disease.

Email Dr. Ustinova for more information

Motor control and learning

Research includes the investigation of movement organization, impairments, and recovery in patients from various clinical populations. This includes patients who have been diagnosed with specific movement disorders, traumatic brain injuries, and those who have Parkinson's disease, autism, or have experienced a stroke. Research projects are conducted in the motion analysis center, equipped with the system for motion analysis, electromyography, and force plates to examine kinematics and kinetic of movement patterns.

Motion analysis center

Recent publications on motor control and learning

  • Ustinova KI, Leonard WA, Cassavaugh ND, Ingersoll CD (2011). Development of 3D immersive videogame to improve arm-postural coordination in patients with TBI. J Neuroeng Rehabil. 31:8:61.
  • VanderHill MS, Wolf EE, Langenderfer JE, Ustinova KI (2014). The effect of actual and imaginary handgrip on postural stability during different balance conditions Gait Posture 40:652-657.
  • Austin HM, Balendra N, Langenderfer JE, Ustinova KI (2018) Decomposition of leg movements during overground walking in individuals with traumatic brain injury. Brain Inj, 32(6):739-746.

Human development

Research involving human development focuses on factors that influence infant and child movement strategies. Recent studies have examined influence of the home environment on locomotor acquisition, muscle activation patterns in infants learning to walk, and impact of wearing external support garments on gait parameters.

Sensorimotor integration

Research involving sensorimotor integration encompasses the accumulation of sensory input from multiple sensory modalities. This includes but is not limited to, somatosensory stimulation, and visual and vestibular input. The goal of this research in this area of study is to specifically evaluate movement strategies of the body within a controlled environment. 

Educational research in physical therapy

Research involves experiential learning that impacts students' self-efficacy and skill development, including critical thinking, communication and professional behaviors. This research also involves partnerships with community members including activities that benefit social, mental, and physical well-being in rural areas. Includes activities such as domestic and international service learning, community outreach programs, and embedded classroom partnerships.

Email Dr. Haines for more information

Multimodal teaching

Research involves the use of multiple forms of instruction in higher education including lectures, lab format, patient simulation including community partners, and the use of clinical case examples. Simulation-based education has been shown to have positive outcomes regarding student confidence related to a variety of clinical settings. According to studies from several health professions, following simulation, participants’ subjective levels of confidence have been found to increase.

Email Dr. Kopka for more information

Diet, aging, and neurodegenerative disease process

Research involves exploring the effects of aging, diet and marine-based, omega-3 fatty acids on neuroinflammation, oxidative stress, microglial dysfunction, cognition and neurodegenerative disease processes in rodent models.

Email Dr. Andraka for more information