Foundation Funding Recipient and Past Scientific Review Chair – Samuel Ward, PT, PhD

Many of today’s physical therapist researchers began their research careers with Foundation for Physical Therapy Research funding. Among them is Samuel Ward, PT, PhD.

Ward is Research Vice-Chairman of Orthopaedic Surgery and Director of the Muscle Physiology Laboratory in the Departments of Radiology, Orthopaedic Surgery, and Bioengineering at the University of California San Diego. Much of his research focuses on understanding skeletal muscle design and plasticity using multimodal imaging.

On an engineering track, Ward quickly realized he wanted to pursue a degree in physical therapy, and ultimately wanted to obtain a PhD. While pursuing his doctorate in Biokinesiology, Ward familiarized himself with the funding opportunities afforded to researchers and went on to eventually receive Foundation-funding in the forms of a Promotion of Doctoral Studies (PODS) I scholarship in 2001 and a PODS II scholarship in 2002.

According to Ward, Foundation funding helped kick-start his career. “When you get your first grant, it gives you a little bit of confidence,” he said. “You have to work your way up the ladder to land an NIH grant, and the Foundation is an excellent platform for that process.”

Ward is a perfect example of Foundation funding leading to bigger opportunities and earning additional funding form larger agencies. Throughout his research career, he participated in several larger grant studies. Ward was Principal Investigator on a five-year R01 study funded by the National Institutes of Health, titled: “Muscle Structure, Toxin Dose, and Exercise Affect Botulinum Toxin Efficiency.” In another study funded by the Department of Defense, Ward examined the effect of heavy load carriage on the lumbar spine during operational tasks in military personnel. This work was later translated into non-military populations. Specialized MRI techniques were used to see what happens to the spine when patients are put in positions that are frequently used in the clinical setting.

More recently, Ward was named Lead Scientist on the NIH study, “Lumbar Spine Muscle Degeneration Inhibits Rehabilitation-Induced Muscle.” While still in the preliminary stages, this longitudinal project aims to examine the effects of exercise on patients with low back pain.

Ward’s appreciation for the funding he received prompted him to give back by serving on the Foundation’s Scientific Review Committee in 2011, eventually becoming Chair in 2013. Ward believes that the support received from the Foundation gives young researchers an important sense of confidence early on in their careers.

Ward continues to be an advocate for research and is a strong believer in pursuing excellence in other disciplines. He, himself, has expertise in orthopaedics, radiology, and bioengineering to complement his proficiency within physical therapy. Ward is constantly reminding young researchers to widen their skill set. “To push our field forward, we need to have an impact on the broader fields of medicine, engineering, etc,” he said.

Ward received his Physical Therapy degree from California State University Long Beach in 1997, his PhD in Biomechanics at the University of Southern California in 2003, and post-doc in Orthopaedic Surgery at UC San Diego in 2006.



  • Berry DB, Regner B, Galinsky V, Ward SR, Frank LR. “Relationships Between Tissue Microstructure and the Diffusion Tensor in Simulated Skeletal Muscle”  2018 Jul;80(1):317-329. doi: 10.1002/mrm.26993. Epub 2017 Oct 31.

  • Shahidi B, Hubbard JC, Gibbons MC, Ruoss S, Zlomislic V, Allen RT, Garfin SR, Ward SR. “Lumbar multifidus muscle degenerates in individuals with chronic degenerative lumbar spine pathology.”   2017 Dec;35(12):2700-2706. doi: 10.1002/jor.23597. Epub 2017 May 23.

  • Berry DB, Rodríguez-Soto AE, Su J, Gombatto SP, Shahidi B, Palombo L, Chung C, Jensen A, Kelly KR, Ward SR, “Lumbar spine postures in Marines during simulated operational positions.”  2017 Oct;35(10):2145-2153. doi: 10.1002/jor.23510. Epub 2017 Jan 30.