Department of Physical Therapy

Research Overview

The Department of Physical Therapy conducts clinical and scientific research that enhances the well-being and quality of life of humans by focusing on mechanisms for improving health. There is a developing research agenda within the department that links to collaborators both within the School of Health and Environment and in the community.

Graduate students in Physical Therapy contribute to the Department's research agenda through participation in research courses and group-based research projects. Undergraduate Exercise Physiology students are introduced to research in required statistics and methodology courses and have opportunities to participate with faculty during their Independent Study in their senior year.

For additional information regarding faculty members, please see the Faculty page.

PT Faculty Research Areas

Sean Collins
  • Clinical epistemology – integration / practice
  • Reviews to establish evidential base and/or gaps for clinical decision making
  • Methodologies for understanding complexity in clinical practice
  • Human performance modeling
  • Heart rate variability & stress physiology

Gerard Dybel
  • Golf swing analysis of collegiate golfers using K-Vest
  • Quantification of biomechanical exposure to PT's working in a rehab environment
  • Quantification of physical activity levels i.e. total movements, caloric expenditure, heart rate, RPE of rehab patients using accelerometery
  • Analysis of CPR using the Motion Monitor, accelerometers and force plates
Cynthia Ferrara
  • Cardiovascular risk factors in college students.  
  • Community-wide interventions and environmental changes to promote physical activity and healthy lifestyles.  
  • Biomarkers of stress and the relationship to performance, illness and injury, and disability.  
  • Evaluation of programs to promote student academic success and retention
Linda Kahn-D'Angelo
  • Infant activity & relationship to positioning
  • Physical therapy in the special care nursery
  • Positional head deformity in infants
  • Pain in infants & children
  • Use of clinical exemplars & mission, vision, path reflection in physical therapy education
  • Pediatrics, especially 0-3 years
  • Neuroscience topics
  • Reflective practice
Erika Lewis
  • Hand and Upper Extremity Clinical Outcomes
  • Laser Treatment and Lateral Epicondylitis Outcomes
  • Figure-of-8 and Volumetrics to Measure Hand Edema
  • Novel Splint Material
  • Collaboration with UMass Memorial Health Care Hospital Departments of Hand Therapy and Hand Surgery
    • Trigger Finger Treatment:  Outcome Study
    • Assessment of Evaluation Instruments used by Hand Therapists
Deirdra Murphy
  • Physical fitness and obesity in children and adults with developmental disabilities, including autism
  • Service learning as a teaching pedagogy in physical therapy
  • Health promotion and wellness in communities
  • Special Olympics & fitness outcomes
Connie Seymour
  • Community based participatory research with neurologically involved (UML Fitness Center for Neurologic Dysfunction) and at-risk elders (Healthy Elder Living Program)
  • Community prevention programming/interventions for movement disorders in at-risk pre-elders
  • Impact of interventions in reducing disability in neurological dysfunction and elders
  • Evaluation of energy expenditure & perceived exertion during different types of activities/interventions in physical rehabilitation (geriatric population & neurological disorders)
  • Evaluation of actual treatment time during conventional vs. alternative therapy (I.e. electronic gaming)
Joyce White
  • Establishing normative data for ROM measurements at the CMC joint of the thumb - or MCP joints of the fingers; this could involve issues of gender & age differences, as well as reliability and validity of the measurement methods
  • Evaluation of upper extremity nerve stretching procedures proposed by David Butler. Establishing normative data for ROM measurements at the glenohumeral joint in comparison to shoulder complex: are GH measurements as reliable as total shoulder complex motions?
  • Examination procedures, injury prevention or treatment related to musculoskeletal conditions

Yi-Ning (Winnie) Wu

  • Understanding human motor control and motor adaptation due to injury and intervention
  • Understanding muscle property and muscle adaptation due to neurological impairments and after exercise intervention
  • Investigation of the feasibility, efficacy and impact of technology-based neurorehabilitation
  • Robotic neurorehabilitation
  • Development of clinical tools for physical therapy
  • Pediatric neurorehabilitation and motor control
  • Examining the impact of cardiopulmonary kickboxing on the body function
  • Multi-center evaluations of reflex and nonreflex changes in cerebral palsy using a portable devise (in collaboration with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago)
  • Enhancing outcomes in childhood cerebral palsy neural correlates of massed practice (in collaboration with Hasbro Children’s Hospital and Brown Institute for Brain Science)


Ongoing Research


  • Balance and Fall Prevention in the Elderly
  • Differences and EMG and perceived difficulty of using different computer mice by the elderly
  • Predictors of risk for ACL injury in female adolescent basketball players
  • Kinematic analysis of jumping mechanics of adolescent female players
  • Incidence of muscle injuries in middle aged females participating in strength training
  • Effects of music on pediatric exercise
  • Reliability of Peabody Developmental Motor Scales
  • Learning Centered Teaching
  • Reliability and validity of tests and measurements in orthopedic physical therapy
  • Intervention strategies in the management of low back pain
  • Collaboration with Center for Health and Disease Research
    • Soy Protein and Resistance Training: Impact on Sarcopenia, Muscle Strength, Functional Limitations and Disability in Community-Dwelling Elders
    • Obesity and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in College-Aged Population
    • Healthy Impressions: Exercise Interventions in Elementary School Children
    • New Recruits Police Officer Training Program
    • D'Youville Nursing Home Project
    • Physical Activity and Health Among People with Disabilities
  • Collaboration with Center for Public Health and Health Promotion
    • Qualitative study of parents of children who participate in therapeutic horseback riding
  • Collaboration with Ironstone Farm for studies on therapeutic horseback riding
  • Collaboration with Kerr Ergonomics Institute
    • Job Strain and Heart Rate Variability
    • Approximate Entropy of RR Interval and Vagal Modulation Time Series: An indication of exhausted systems?
    • Heart Rate and Blood Pressure Variability: Acute and Long Term Stressor Responses
  • Collaboration with University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Division of Preventive Cardiology
    • Job Strain and Heart Rate Variability
    • Heart Rate Variability in Perimenopausal Women with Moderate to Severe Vasomotor Symptoms
  • Collaboration with Northeast Rehabilitation Hospital
    • Clinical Reasoning and characteristics of expert practice in physical therapy in the area of patient and family teaching
    • Evaluation of Lifting Strategies used by health care workers
    • Predictors of Stress, Dissatisfaction and Burn Out Among Health Care Professionals in Rehabilitation Settings
  • Collaboration with Northeastern University
    • Indicators of Heart Rate and Blood Pressure Variability in Patients with Systolic versus Diastolic Heart Failure during Positional Changes 

Student Research Projects


  • The effects of aqua PT treatment on delayed onset muscle soreness in collegiate athletes
  • Effects of counterforce bracing versus non-bracing on grip and wrist extensor strength in a healthy population
  • Adherence in pediatric early intervention
  • Ankle range of motion & incidence of injury in collegiate distance runners
  • The effects of sub-maximal exercise on physical fitness in school-aged children
  • The effect of personality type on running injuries in recreational runners
  • The effect of a therapeutic horseback riding program on pulmonary function in children with developmental disabilities
  • Interrater reliability of the Tinetti balance assessment tool: Expert vs. novice clinicians
  • A comparison of student preferences using two forms of pedagogy - distance learning and traditional classroom based instruction
  • A novel approach for the six-minute walk test: A simulation study
  • The effects of aqua PT 3:1 treatment time on lumbar flexion and hamstring extensibility
  • Determining the reliability and validity of a passive knee extension test
  • Effects of the Aqua PT 3-in-1 therapy system plus stretching protocol versus a stretching protocol on hip flexor extensibility
  • Computer mouse use: differences in actual and perceived exertion of computer users over the age of 55
  • The influence of hip positioning on internal and external range of motion measurements