Student physical therapists receives hands-on training in the classroom.

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Diagnostic Imaging Ultrasound Enhances Student Learning

May 28, 2015

Diagnostic ultrasound imaging is changing the landscape of the physical therapy profession. Once used primarily for musculoskeletal rehabilitation research, it is now heavily used in clinical research and becoming more accessible to physical therapy clinics. Tamara Phelan ‘08, PT, EdD, FAAOMPT, professor of physical therapy, secured a $25,000 University of the Pacific Technology in Education Grant to purchase the department's first diagnostic imaging ultrasound. "There was no way to advance into this area without this grant. In the past all we did was talk about it and show it in pictures. It was hard because everyone can see the potential in that but to actually see and have experience with the unit and make it accessible to our students is important," said Phelan.

Dr. Phelan uses the diagnostic ultrasound imaging when teaching courses to student physical therapists. "By incorporating this technology, it deepens the learning experience. Exposing students to many different forms of technology helps them learn about appropriate use. They will also graduate with a basic understanding of the tool and hopefully be able to use it in their clinics someday," said Dr. Phelan.

The benefits of the diagnostic ultrasound imaging are threefold:

  • Physical therapists can use the tool during examination and evaluation to assess the integrity of the injured tissues;
  • It is a vital tool in providing biofeedback during muscle retraining especially when treating deep muscles that can only been seen with advanced technology; and
  • The tool allows for real-time point of care use and provides an image during dynamic movement. This type of evaluation is helpful in cases of shoulder impingement or lumbar instability.

Diagnostic ultrasound will also be used in a research project to determine the differences in the student experience when examining the transversus abdominis muscle. Dr. Phelan explains that the transversus abdominis is very difficult to palpate when contracting. "I will be trying to determine if they can tell the difference between a correct and incorrect contraction when palpating the muscle. My hope is that students can go out in the clinic and be able to tell the difference with or without the unit after this training," said Dr. Phelan. She also is considering other areas such as providing biofeedback for patients with incontinence and helping to retrain pelvic floor muscles.Ultrasound_resized

She is most excited about the increase in the interest of the technology and how it's integrated into physical therapy curriculum.

"A lot of technology makes us more efficient and better at what we do and this (diagnostic ultrasound) is that type of technology. In so many areas of physical therapy practice this will improve the efficacy of our practice and we will be able to do a better job in a shorter time period and spend less money. That is fundamental to making the health care system work," said Dr. Phelan. "If we have the technology and expose our students to the appropriate use of technology that's a gift that will change how they operate or dictate how they operate for a lifetime as a therapist. So it's very meaningful."

Diagnostic ultrasound is one of many technologically advanced tools in the doctor of physical therapy program. Read about the newly acquired GAITRite system here.