On the last day of the 2017 World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT) in Cape Town, South Africa, a handful of platform presentation awards were announced, with faculty from the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) scooping up two of them.
Jill Boissonnault, PhD, PT, associate professor of physical therapy and health care sciences at SMHS, was part of the team that won an award in the European region category for research on “The Severity and Impact of Pelvic Girdle Pain and Low Back Pain in Pregnancy in the U.S., UK, Norway, and Sweden.”
Sue Leach, PhD, assistant professor of physical therapy and health care sciences at SMHS, and Ellen Costello, PhD, PT, associate director for the Program in Physical Therapy and associate professor of physical therapy and health care sciences at SMHS, won an award for the North America Caribbean region category for their research, “A Novel Divided-Attention Stepping Intervention for Community-Dwelling Older Adults with Fall Risk.”
Boissonnault said she was surprised she won for her research, which compared the prevalence, impact, and severity of low back pain and pelvic girdle pain among women in four countries, finding that the conditions were common and that there is a need for more information about such pain.
While Leach was unable to travel to South Africa, Costello gave the presentation for that project, a divided attention, multidirectional stepping task to help older adults prevent a fall.
Patients follow three-step verbal cues to identify targets on a specialized mat and are required to step forward, sideways, or backward. Cognitively, they have to process the directional cue to accurately step, while physically, they have to perform the action, said Leach. “We’re trying to create a scenario where … those steps could be carried through if a patient is in a situation where they may fall,” she said. The activity allows patients to become more accurate in their steps and gain better balance, strength, and endurance.
“What’s rather unique is that the stepping intervention only lasts six minutes. It’s something that could be included as part of a comprehensive fall prevention program or possibly even a modified home exercise program,” added Leach.
As for the experience of going to South Africa and gaining insight from hundreds of PTs, Costello says it always gives her a different frame of reference for her profession. “Sometimes you get bogged down in problems with your own health care system and insurance, and then you realize some countries may only have one physical therapist for a million people … so it certainly gives you a different perspective.”
The WCPT brings together physical therapists from around the world in an effort to promote global utilization of PT services. Boissonnault said the confederation meeting is important because it offers opportunities for PTs to interact with their colleagues and participate in meetings and networking sessions. “It’s always spectacular to see people from all over doing work similar to what you’re doing,” she said.