University of Puget Sound Researchers Garner International Award

Researchers from the University of Puget Sound received an award for outstanding research presentation from the International Acupuncture Association of Physical Therapists (IAAPT) given at World Physical Therapy 2011 held inAmsterdam,Netherlands, June 20-23. From among the 1,800 studies presented at this international meeting, 28 received awards for excellence in categories of global geographic region, research special interest and clinical area. Three studies from theUnited Statesreceived research awards. Judging was based on a combined assessment of abstract and presentation quality.

The study, “Relationship of body awareness to the influence of respiratory-based therapeutic relaxation on electromyographic activity of the upper trapezius,” was presented by Roger Allen, PT, PhD, professor in the physical therapy and neuroscience programs at UPS. It was conducted in collaboration with UPS DPT students Kelsey Wallin, DPT, Tonya Bennett, DPT, Brittany Hodgeson, SPT, and Ali Heartman, an undergraduate intern from the UPS neuroscience program.

The research project began as an investigation into the potential efficacy of respiratory-based relaxation maneuvers to decrease maladaptive neurogenic hypertonicity.

Early results were disappointing. Therapeutic relaxation exercises that have been promoted in the literature for a long time, were not demonstrating an ability to attenuate muscle activity under controlled conditions. The initial study, undertaken by Allen, Wallin, Bennett and Hodgeson, found no significant effects of the relaxation techniques on muscle tone.

As part of her internship in the new neuroscience program at UPS, Heartman worked with the research group as an assistant while also studying psychometric instruments for assessing an individual’s level of body awareness. This coincidental convergence of interest uncovered an unexpected finding. Based on Heartman’s interest in body awareness, participants in the study filled out Cynthia Price’s Scale of Body Connection. Participants’ electromyographic responses to the relaxation techniques were then re-evaluated taking their measured level of body awareness into account. This revealed that individuals with relatively high body awareness scores derived significant muscle tone reduction from the relaxation training compared to controls, whereas participants with low body awareness experience little or no muscle tone differences.

The findings suggest that an individual’s body awareness may be a predictive factor in his or her response to some physical therapy interventions. It will be interesting in the future to see if body awareness influences other types of PT treatment responses, or if an individual’s body awareness may be enhanced to maximize the effectiveness of other interventions aimed at physical restoration.

At last year’s PTWA Fall Conference in Tacoma; Wallin, Bennett and Hodgeson presented the initial study as a poster and Heartman presented a poster on the potential physical therapy applications of assessing body awareness, both under Allen’s direction. The study presented at World PT 2011 brought these two bodies of work together for the first time.

This represents a new and exciting direction for collaboration at UPS. Collaborations between UPS physical therapy faculty and DPT students have produced a great deal of meaningful research over the past decade. Now in its fourth year, the neuroscience undergraduate offering is an interdisciplinary blend of faculty from biology, psychology, exercise science, mathematics and philosophy, with the occupational and physical therapy students and faculty.. A physical icon of this interdisciplinary cooperation is the new Weyerhaeuser Center for Health Sciences building. Beginning fall 2011 this new facility will be the home of the UPS physical therapy, occupational therapy and neuroscience programs, along with the biology and psychology departments. The study linking body awareness to treatment responses impacting muscle activity is one of the first to formally draw entities of the neuroscience program together. It has taken the work of a group of DPT students and an undergraduate neuroscience intern all the way to presentation at the World Physical Therapy Congress and an international research award.

In addition to this study, Allen presented “Pain distribution quantification using enhanced ‘rule-of-nines’: reliability and correlations with intensity, sensory, affective, and functional pain measures,” conducted with second-year DPT students Willa Sorbie, Kristina Fugere, Chris Soterakopoulos, Ariel Oksendahl, and UPS assistant professor of physical therapy Dr. Julia Looper, PT, MSPT, PhD.

Roger Allen, PT, PhD
Professor, University ofPuget Sound