#CSM2011 Acute Care Lecture: Our Foundation and Our Future?

#CSM2013 has arrived! Pre-conference courses are in full swing and the regular section programming begins tomorrow morning. Acute care practice received press online and discussion here on PT Think Tank. Now, I am going to review an inspirational lecture from 2 years ago at #CSM2011 that I truly enjoyed.

Jim Dunleavy PT, MS gave the inaugural Acute Care Section Lecture at #CSM2011 entitled “Acute Care: Our Foundation and Our Future.” Jim has been instrumental in the Acute Care section as well as served as president of the New York Physical Therapy Association.

Here are some quick facts you may not know about the Acute Care Section:

  • Formed in 1992
  • First section with platform presentations
  • First to share special interest groups across sections
  • Goal of establishing an acute care physical therapy speciality certification
  • APTA’s 2011 Most Outstanding Section award
  • Twitter @AcuteCarePT (ond of the most active sections)
  • Fantastic website with excellent resources


Jim discussed the history of our profession in the United States. The physical therapy profession grew out of serving societal need, providing necessary service not otherwise available. Jim urged us to not loose site of what society and patients need, not merely what we desire to accomplish professionally. A focus on need, service, and commitment.

Now, I must say Jim has VISION. Throughout his lecture he kept emphasizing the “courage and will to change.” He even poised the question how could direct access physical therapy be practiced within the hospital? Interational therapists, notably some in Australia, practice in a direct access environment even within intensive care units.

Jim stressed pursuing measurable financial, personal, and patient outcome effects of acute care provided by physical therapists. He presented the necessity for openness to new business relationships with the facilities at which physical therapists are currently employed. Changes in healthcare, payment and hospital care delivery require physical therapist practice to evolve. Can an acute care physical therapist structure their practice like a hospital physician?

As I discussed in so, you think you can walk? Jim maintains that a function only approach may cost a facility more money. It is imperative physical therapists research and present their impact on costs to the patient, hospital, and health care system in addition to patient outcomes (pain, function, morbidity). Across settings, a function only approach results in far too narrow and limiting scope of analysis for our practice. A great example of the profound effect we can have on medical outcomes and complications, regardless of function, was illustrated in a recent PTJ manuscript investigating an early mobility program in a trauma and burn intensive care unit.

No adverse events were reported related to the EMP [early mobility program]. After adjusting for age and injury severity, there was a decrease in airway, pulmonary, and vascular complications (including pneumonia and DVT) post-EMP. Ventilator days, TBICU and hospital lengths of stay were not significantly decreased.

So, regardless of the functional implications of early mobility and a lack of effect on ventilator days and hospital length of stay, there a strong argument for the presence of a physical therapist and early mobility in a TBICU exists. If this investigation focused soley on function, a vital, important outcome of movement would have been overlooked.

But, the Acute Care section needs help and recognition from the other sections. Further, it needs young, motivated individuals to sustain and execute it’s vision and goals. Despite impressive and innovative acute care practice expansion over the years including more complex, acute patient populations and environments ranging from emergency departments to intensive care units, the Acute Care section has struggled for meaningful recognition and collaboration from professional colleagues…

So, what’s next?

Research illustrates the importance, effectiveness, and outcomes when a physical therapist is involved in patient care. Future investigations should focus on specifics of interventions including frequency, duration, intensity, and content which is most efficacious and effective for specific populations. But, global inquiry on the impact of physical therapists on patient, hospital, and healthcare outcomes should not be abandoned. Some of the more profound research is not just what physical therapists can do to improve function and quality of life, but on reducing the risk of adverse medical outcomes and morbidity. ALL students should have some type of acute care rotation or experience prior to graduation. If we truly want to assume our role as direct access providers of choice all students must obtain didactic knowledge and clinical exposure to acute medical conditions.

Dan Malone, PT, PhD, CCS and recently elected president of the cardiopulmonary section states in his editorial The New Demands of Acute Care: Are We Ready?

The articles cited here should inspire us—acute care practitioners, therapy managers, and educators—to examine and evaluate how to provide services as well as how to facilitate the integration of the specialized knowledge, skills, and behaviors that will bring success in acute care. We face many challenges ahead—an aging population; changes in work processes and care delivery; recruitment and retention of high-quality staff; and the imperative to define the value of physical therapy to our many stakeholders, including patients, referral sources, and third-party payers. Are we ready?

Physical therapists in acute care (and beyond) need to step up to the challenge. We need to focus on changing the process and concept of our practice. We need to improve our understanding of pain and musculoskeletal conditions. We need to treat patients within the hospital who have pain complaints. We need to assist in pain management, pain education, and pain understanding for out patients, our colleagues, and other professionals. We need to continue to educate our outpatient colleagues on the physical therapists role in managing medical conditions. We also need to learn from and collaborate with them.

This years Acute Care Lecture is on Wednesday from 6:30PM to 7:30PM in the Hilton Bayfront Indigo GH rooms. Sharon Gorman PT, DPTSc, GCS will discus Leveraging Technology to Advance Acute Care Practice. Even if you do not practice in acute care, please stop by. Interested in attending some Acute Care Section Programming? Here is the #CSM2013 schedule.

From Bench to Bedside: Spinal Cord Physiology -> Clinical Interventions

Having just defended a dissertation in the field of neuroscience, this session was my guilty pleasure. I felt right at home hearing about the modulation of intrinsic motor neuron properties. But, the question I’ve had since graduate school was the focus of this session – how does the lab work in cat/rat/monkey motor neurons translate to human patients?

This session was presented by four brilliant researchers interested in brainstem modulation of the motor system. The patient population discussed was spinal cord injury, a condition in which the connection between the brainstem and the motor neurons are disrupted. Each researcher discussed the implications for force generation, spasticity, and locomotion. I’ll summarize their reports below.

Allison Hyngstrom, PT, PhD

First up, Dr. Hyngstrom highlighted a few key researchers that have influenced treatment of patients:

  • Sherrington – contributed the concept of the spinal motor neuron as the final common pathway – contributed to the understanding of locomotion by examining “air stepping” elicited by stretching hip muscles of spinalized
  • Eccles – introduced the idea that inhibition could sculpt the output of motor neurons, particularly the reciprocal inhibition pathway
  • Brown/Grillner/Lundberg – descending input, as well as specific neurotransmitters, could activate spinal networks without sensory inputs

The Dr. Hyngstrom progressed to ‘Motor Neurons 101’, including these key points:

  • MNs possess huge denritic trees to receive inputs from several sources (higher brain, local interneurons, afferent)
  • Two categories of receptors are expressed on the MN membrane – ionotropic and metabotropic
  • The activation of metabotropic receptors by monoamines create persistent inward currents (PICs)
  • PICs can amplify the output of the MN
  • In acute spinal cord injury there is a loss of seratonin in the spinal cord that decreases the excitability of spinal MNs

Moving to the spinal cord injured cat, researchers have found that by adding monoamines to the spinal cord the cat could walk again [link to article in PubMed]

Next Dr. Hyngstrom described some of her own work on MNs. In her dissertation she was interested in the factors that regulate PICs. One way she did this was by altering the amount of reciprocal inhibition.

In summary

  • Monoamines (like seratonin) increase the gain of the MN > which implies PTs could reduce effort for a given movement
  • Monoamines facilitate automatic movements
  • Dysregulation of monoamines likely contributes to alterations in cellular excitability in chronic spinal cord injury
  • Altered cellular excitability not necessarily a bad thing > consider other ideas
  • Targeted medications could be used to harness spinal network excitability

Chris Thompson, PT, DPT

Next up Dr. Thompson presented his talk, titled – “Activation of spinal networks in patients with spinal cord injury to improve volitional movements”.

He began with a bold statement – “indiviuals with motor incomplete SCI do not fatigue”. How could this be? It seems that in a repeated stimulation protocol, patients with acute SCI  do not exhibit a reduction in force generating capacity, whereas patients with chronic SCI and healthy controls do exhibit a reduction in the same protocol.

I also seems that people with incomplete SCI have a reserve of volitional force generation – 115% of maximal force can be achieved across the first 4-5 maximal contractions.

In acute spinal cord injury there is a period of spinal shock and spinal reflex responses are suppressed. But after time (chronic) the responses become super sensitive to seratonin.

Dr. Thompson want to know why and he looks to the motor neuron persistent inward current as a mechanism for the following three reasons:

  1. There is an increased EMG amplitude across contractions, through increased recruitment and rate modulation of motor units
  2. Prolonged torque in response to electricla stimulation using top hat stim protocol, which was abolished when a nerve block was in place
  3. There are alterations in motor unit activity due to pharmacological agents (SSRI), which block the reuptake of seratonin

Dr. Thompson concluded by review attempts at translation of the findings in animal models to humans patients. The idea best examined by his lab group basically involves applying a ‘top-hat’ stimulation protocol made popular in cat experiments to human patients. Something very interesting happens when comparing humans and cats. The amount of force and the strength of the persistent inward current are larger when muscles are at shorter lengths IN HUMANS. However, the amount of force and the strength of the PIC are larger when muscles are at longer lengths IN CATS. Explaining this difference is the next task on Dr. Thompson’s plate.

Arun Jayaraman, PT, PhD

Alright, that was a lot of motor neuron physiology and I appreciate you hanging in there so far. So, how can the above information be put into clinical practice? This is what Arun enthusiastically addressed – developing the rehabilitation protocol.

His main question was how can we harness the reserve in force generating capacity seen in patients with incomplete spinal cord injury?

This was tested in 10 patients with chronic motor incomplete SCI in a cross-over design with a two month washout period between the testing conditions. The phenomenon examined was that the harder you work, the more force enhancement you observe in the SCI population. As the time between maximal contractions gets longer, the enhancement in force production becomes lower (15 s is best). This phenomenon is present both concentric and isokinetic contraction modes.

Subjects trained with 65-80% of their one repetition maximum until they plateaued in function. Arun found that just isometric trained alone enhanced berg balance scores and walking distances in the 6-min and timed up and go tasks. Noxious stimulation at an intensity of 50 mA on the stomach skin was not so effective.

A follow up direction Arun is investigating is the use of intermittent hypoxia. It has been shown in rats that electromyography and force measurement improved in a ladder climbing task following a hypoxic state. How will patients with chronic SCI respond to hypoxic conditions during locomotor training? Arun is hopeful that benefits are realized in his patients.

In summary

  • Volitional drive can be enhance by working very hard
  • Does improve walking and balance
  • Can be done at home
  • What are long term effects?
  • Can this be complimented with intermittent hypoxia?

George Hornby, PT, PhD

The topic addressed by Dr. Hornby at the end of the session was the combination of physical therapy and pharmacological interventions.

It seems that providing glutamate can generate locomotion patterns and we also know that monoamines can excite central pattern generators (CPGs).

There is an increased Babinski Sign in SCI due to effects of monamines.

Seratonin (5HT) is effective in initiating locomotion in rats with SCI.

It seems that humans respond better to 5HT than norepinephrine (NE) when administered.

Lastly, Dr. Hornby has seen that strength, not spasticity, is related to locomotion function.

CSM 2011 – The Pauline Cerasoli Lecture

Photo taken from APTA website

This lecture honors one of physical therapy’s best and brightest – Pauline ‘Polly’ Cerasoli (Feb 25, 1939 – Sept 11, 2010).

The Cerasoli lecture began with a tribute to Polly by a long-time friend and colleague Bette Ann Harris in which we learned more about the places she spent time:
  • Northeastern University (1967-1981)
  • Massachusettes General Hospital (1981-1987), doctorate in education
  • University of Colorado Denver (1988-1996), director of physical therapy program
We also learned of the major contributions made by Polly to the physical therapy profession:
  • Started the Boston Education Consortium in the 1970s
  • Published a landmark paper titled ‘Research experience in an undergraduate physical therapy program’ – [pubmed link]
  • First appointed clinical specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1981
  • Mentored a blind physical therapist in 1992
Next, APTA President Scott Ward asked for a moment of silence, as it was the first Cerasoli lecture since she passed away in Sept of 2010. Dr. Ward announced that the 2012 Cerasoli Lecture will be given by Christine Baker from UT Galveston.
Dr. Ward then introduced us to the 14th Cerasoli Lecturer – Dr. James Gordon. Dr. Gordon is associate dean and chair in the division of biokinesiology and physical therapy at USC.
Dr. Gordon’s talk was titled ‘Excellence in Academic Physical Therapy – What Is It and How Do We Get There?’ I’ll try my best to summarize the talk below.
We (physical therapists) must accept the challenge that lays before us – pursue excellence.
On January 15, 1921, that 30 PT aides formed the APTA at the Keene’s Chop House in NYC. Now, a century later, Vision 2020 is lies ahead. It is the challenge.
What is needed to meet this goal is a strong academic foundation. It is in the academic setting that the physical therapy profession does its thinking.
Dr. Gordon defined a strong academic foundation as having three pillars – Education, Research, and Clinical Practice. All three pillars need to be in place. A classic three legged stool analogy, the foundation will topple with the absence of just one of the three pillars.
Dr. Gordon stated that excellence today is the norm for tomorrow. Excellence is the engine of the train, accredidation is the caboose (crowd chuckles).
So what is the agenda to achieve excellence? It is fulfilling all three pillars of the academic foundation.

1. Education

The most urgent task is to standardize curricular competencies. There is “unwarranted variation in physical therapy practice”. For example, there is large variation in the prerequisites, and program length. An emphasis on preparing generalists is the problem. Accreditation offers a list but no priority. Curricular competency needs to be standardized. Students need to have the ability to treat a patient with a defined condition under a defined set of characteristics (settings, acuity, age).

2. Research

Not much to say here. All programs should be involved and the big should help the small.

3. Clinical Practice

All programs across the country need to be involved. Currently, only 22% of programs have any form of program sponsored practice. Practice is important because it enhances teaching and provides a venue for research.
Lastly, Dr. Gordon addressed the infrastructure requirements to achieve program growth. Of the 213 accredited physical therapy programs in 200 institutions, 206 offer a DPT degree. Currently, 75% of faculty are PhD-level prepared. Many of these programs are very small. 50% are in Universities with research institutions and 35% of physical therapy programs are in medical centers. The average class size is 42.5, and 20% of programs have class sizes less than 20.
Why emphasize program growth? Dr. Gordon argued that this will bring a greater breadth of knowledge, support more research, and meet the need for more physical therapy students.
Dr. Gordon then wrapped up with his two take-home points:
  • A strong academic foundation is essential for achieving excellence in physical therapy
  • A strong academic foundation is dependent on three pillars (Education, Research, Clinical Practice), and you need them all
Photo taken from APTA website

Physical Therapists in the Emergency Department

Findings indicated that these physicians found ED physical therapy services to be of value to themselves, to their patients, and to the department as a whole and described specific manners in which such consultations improved emergency care. Implementation and maintenance of the program, however, presented various challenges.

Emergency Department Physical Therapist Service: Removing Barriers and Building Bridges

To start, a brief introduction of who comes into the emergency department. Fewer and fewer are coming via ambulance, even fewer by life flight. People are using the ED in new and different ways. For example, many have non-urgent and non-life threatening conditions.

The average wait is upwards of 1 hour, with the average length of stay in the ED upwards of 4 hours. The ED physician spends an average of 11 minutes on direct care. That time includes research, orders, and making referrals.

Patient satisfaction with ED care is generally low. Management of common musculoskeletal, pain, and soft tissue injury complaints is varied and poor. Individuals are routinely given cervical soft collars for neck pain, immobilization including CASTS and or instructions for non-weight bearing for ankle sprains, and MULTIPLE days of bed rest for low back pain.

What do the PATIENTS want? Answers, instructions, and to feel better!

What do the patients receive? Imaging. Medications. Prescriptions. No follow up.

The fact of the matter is this that more and more individuals are utilizing the ER as their primary stop for health conditions. By the time they seek care these conditions are more chronic and less well controlled. Thus, more and more people seen in the ED are not necessarily in an emergent state. And, I believe, more and more would benefit from the skills of a physical therapist.

Now, I also believe physical therapist’s can play a vital role in deciding when imaging of musculoskeletal conditions is and is not necessary. Further, the treatment they provide may (again my belief) decrease imaging, medication prescription/usage, and decrease re-visit rates for the same complaint. And maybe, just maybe, if we plug these people into physical therapy sooner their conditions (pain, chronic medical diagnoses, etc) will be better managed and controlled. And, I think, that all links back to the Physical Therapist’s Role in Health, Wellness, and Prevention as per Healthy People 2020.

The data that does exists suggest that having PT’s in the ED results in decreased wait time and increased patient satisfaction. [Unfortunately, much of the data on PT’s in the ED has been obtained outside the United States.] At the large, academic hospital I practice high priority is placed on “patient satisfaction.” [However, flawed that concept may be. Refer to Patient Satisfaction is Useless Part I and Part II on the Evidence In Motion Blog]. Further, wait time in the ED is directly related to the costs for that department. Therefore, decreasing wait time is a very real way to decrease costs. Not surprisingly, wait time is inversely related to patient satisfaction. So, already those are two powerful take home points regarding the positive effects PT’s ARE ALREADY having in the ED already. But, what does the future hold?

In expanding PT services in the ED, we can look to other sources of evidence and data to support PT treatment of individuals in the emergency department:

Specifically, there is evidence supporting specific PT approaches to common orthopaedic conditions such as low back pain, neck pain, knee pain, ankle sprains, etc. Also, there are innovative practice models where physical therapists are involved earlier in care providing FRONT end intervention for painful episodes. Virginia Mason (out of my hometown of Seattle) received a lot of publicity even a Wall Street Journal Article for their model of sending patients with work related musculoskeletal complaints to a PT FIRST. They decreased costs by over 50% (!!!) and decreased time away from work.

Future Research and Data Tracking

  • Readmissions
  • Time between ER visits
  • Medication Prescription and Usage
  • Imaging Utilization and Costs
  • Falls and Injury from Falls

The talk was very interesting, and I think this practice area will continue to grow. It actually reminds me of the growth of early mobility and rehabilitation of individuals in intensive care units. I also think there is really good research and data from other areas of practice supporting not only the treatment PT’s can provide, but also our training, decision making, and skills in medical screening and aiding in diagnosis. Not to mention, I did not even mention fall risk screening and intervention, splinting, wound care, assistive device recommendations, and aiding in discharge planning.

Where will physical therapy go next?


  1. Physical Therapists in the Emergency Department: Development of a Novel Practice Venue. Physical Therapy. March 2010.
  2. The Physical Therapist as a Musculoskeletal Specialist in the Emergency Department. Physical Therapy. March 2009
  3. Emergency Department Physical Therapist Service: A Pilot Study Examining Physician Perceptions Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice. 2010.