Jennifer Stevens-Lapsley, PT, MPT, PhD

Categories: Researchers

Paying It Forward: Scholarship and Grant Recipient Jennifer Stevens-Lapsley, PT, MPT, PhD

When Jennifer Stevens-Lapsley, PT, MPT, PhD, was in high school, she spent her summers working as a lab assistant at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  As it came time to choose a career path, physical therapy stood out in her mind. A career in physical therapy provided the opportunity to interact with patients as well as offering the chance to become involved in research efforts that could help them.

“I felt that becoming a researcher would add a new dimension to what I could do as a therapist in terms of the impact I could have on changing quality of life for a much larger number of patients than just the ones I was treating.”

A few years later, Stevens-Lapsley was accepted into the PT, PhD program at the University of Delaware. She received extensive training in the Biomechanics and Movement Science (BIOMS) Program under the mentorship of two past Foundation funded researchers, Lynn Snyder-Mackler, PT, ScD, SCS, FAPTA, and Stuart Binder-Macleod, PT, PhD, FAPTA.

Today, she mentors her own PhD students at the University of Colorado (UC) Denver while directing the Muscle Performance Laboratory.  She and her team are studying interventions for patients with total knee arthroplasty (TKA) and ways to prevent strength loss and improve functional performance post-surgery.

Stevens-Lapsley credits the Foundation with helping her make strides in her research career with a 2000 Promotion of Doctoral Studies (PODS) I Scholarship, 2001 PODS II Scholarship, and the 2007 Pittsburgh-Marquette Challenge Grant.

The purpose of her Foundation-funded grant, “Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) after total knee arthroplasty to counter quadriceps muscle activation deficits,” was to study the use of NMES starting on day two after surgery and evaluate its effectiveness in improving quadriceps muscle strength.

NMES is a means of muscle rehabilitation in which electrodes are placed on the skin to allow muscle to contract involuntarily. This method is not widely used because  many patients find it uncomfortable, yet Stevens-Lapsley believes it has great potential in making an impact on the daily lives of TKA patients.

“The evidence supports its effectiveness, so we should encourage patients to tolerate NMES because the benefits may be worth it. We might be able to preserve muscle function and improve muscle performance on walking, stair climbing, and other activities,” said Stevens-Lapsley.

The final analysis of this Foundation-funded research project is nearing completion and has provided the base for two larger projects awarded by the NIH: a K23 grant for career development and an R01 grant on a large clinical trial that focuses on progressive rehabilitation after knee replacement.

Other studies currently being conducted in the Muscle Performance Laboratory at  UC Denver include the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) on TKA patients and a clinical trial funded by the NIH and the Arthritis Foundation comparing minimally invasive surgery with to traditional surgery techniques for TKA.

Although Stevens-Lapsley devotes several hours each day to working in the lab, she is also dedicated to her DPT and PhD students through teaching and mentoring. In fact, two of her PhD students were the recipients of 2010 PODS I Scholarships amongst a highly competitive field of applicants. Cory Christiansen, PT, PhD, recipient of the 2011 Miami-Marquette Challenge Research Grant, is also being mentored by Stevens-Lapsley. The support and guidance she will provide to Christiansen, a junior faculty member at UC Denver, was a critical item of evaluation in the grant review process that led to award. Stevens-Lapsley expressed that her view on mentorship is a direct result of her experiences with Snyder-Mackler and Binder-Macleod while at the University of Delaware.

“They taught me the importance of mentoring and developing a future generation of clinical scientists to help the profession grow as a whole,” said Stevens-Lapsley.

Her mentors at the University of Delaware also taught her to place a high priority on staying connected with the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and the Foundation; advice she passes on to her own students today.  The support of researchers like Stevens-Lapsley is an important element in helping the Foundation execute its mission to promote physical therapy research.

“Physical therapy has so much room for growth and unexplored opportunities. With the increasing number of aging individuals who will need healthcare services in the future, if we can refine our techniques to be more effective and utilize fewer resources, this will translate to a tremendous quality of life improvement and cost savings for all patients.”

Stevens-Lapsley speaks to a patient in the Muscle Performance Laboratory during a testing session.
A patient using a neuromuscular electrical stimulation unit for the quadriceps during a testing session. Muscle Performance Laboratory, University of Colorado Denver