National Arthritis Month Underscores Importance of Physical Therapy Research
May is National Arthritis Month and it is estimated that 27 million Americans are living with the debilitating chronic condition of Osteoarthritis (OA), one of the most common forms of arthritis.1 Knee OA has the potential to impact and decrease the functional status and quality of life of those that live with it, particularly in African Americans and women. Many risk factors for knee OA have been identified yet no cure exists.1 However, physical therapy has proven to be a vital component of treatment plans to reduce the limitations stemming from OA and maximizing functional capacity and quality of life.
Enter Daniel White, PT, ScD, MSc Research Assistant Professor at Boston University and 2011 Foundation for Physical Therapy Geriatric Research Grant recipient. After experiencing an injury in high school and requiring rehabilitation with a physical therapist, Dan spent time volunteering at a physical therapy clinic and soon enrolled in a master’s degree PT program at Boston University.
Dan spent several years working as a clinician within inpatient rehabilitation and began to notice that many of the interventions being used in the clinic had the potential to be improved. He observed clinicians using different methods to achieve similar outcomes in their patients and he also wondered how patients’ activities outside of the inpatient environment affected their treatment. All of these factors combined made Dan decide that the most logical next step for him would be to pursue a post-professional doctoral degree and become involved in researching treatment interventions.
Much of Dan’s research is focused on studying the geriatric population, including the 2011 research grant he received from the Foundation for his study entitled ”Factors Associated with Day-to-Day Walking in Older Adults with Knee Osteoarthritis.” Dan’s funding from the Foundation along with other research funding he has received from institutions such as the American College of Rheumatology has allowed him to look more closely at the factors associated with physical activity in a knee osteoarthritis cohort and how physical activity changes over time in this population.
Dan is also involved in a project called the Multicenter Osteoarthritis Study, or MOST, funded by the National Institutes of Health through the National Institute on Aging. This project is an ongoing longitudinal study of people who have or are at high risk for knee OA. The study features two clinical centers, a data coordinating center, and an analysis center – all located across the United States. MOST hopes to enable scientists to “better understand how to prevent and treat knee OA”.2
“For physical therapists,” commented Dan, “people with knee osteoarthritis or those who are at high risk for it are a noteworthy population.”
The knee OA population is at high risk for functional limitations and knee pain is a commonly cited reason for seeking treatment from a physical therapist. Further, studying the knee OA population allows Dan to look at many different measures that are important to a physical therapy clinical practice, such as gait speed and knee strength. Studying this group, therefore, allows researchers to understand the relationship between these different factors and learn how they may be associated with one another.
As one study notes that 37% of people aged 60 or older demonstrated knee OA on an x-ray,3 the number of older adults seeking out physical therapy interventions is more than likely growing every day and thus a hugely important population to understand.
“The geriatric population is a group that is growing in size, and is a population that we as therapists commonly treat,” noted Dan. “There is not as much known about this group because of the complexities associated with aging.”
To Dan, this seemed like the perfect research area for him to pursue and contribute to understanding the intricacies of treating a chronic condition in a population exhibiting co-morbidities. The Foundation for Physical Therapy is proud to have assisted him in his quest.
“I can say with all certainty that without the Foundation’s support, I wouldn’t be able to do the type of work I do. My career is a direct result of the generosity of the Foundation’s donors,” said Dan.
With May being National Arthritis Month, Dan has some great tips for those diagnosed with arthritis and those who may be at high risk for the condition. Most importantly, physical activity is the number one thing that those experiencing pain can incorporate into their daily routine in order to decrease their pain and increase function. Maintaining a healthy weight is also essential; exercise can help with that as well. According to Dan, a physical therapist is the perfect person to help somebody transition from a sedentary lifestyle into having an effective and comfortable exercise routine.
Daniel White, PT, ScD, MSc is still in the early stages of his research career. However, it is clear to see that he is primed to make an impact on the future of physical therapy interventions within the older adult community.