Physical therapy professor makes a difference

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

In the realm of personal health, adhering to “doctor’s orders” can make a world of difference — whether it means taking medications to treat illnesses and ailments, or sticking with an exercise program to improve strength and cardiovascular function.

That’s why Maura Iversen, chair of the Department of Physical Therapy in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, is focused on devising interventions that effectively communicate to patients the importance of physical activity and taking necessary medications.

“My strategy with any intervention study is to make it more patient-focused,” Iversen said, “I have patients help identify what their goals are, and weave the education around that.”

Iversen was recently selected by the American College of Rheumatology/Association of Rheumatology Health Professions to receive the 2011 Distinguished Scholar Award. The prestigious award is presented to an individual who has demonstrated exceptional achievements in scholarly activities pertinent to the rheumatic diseases — which include arthritis and other ailments affecting the muscles, joints and bones.

“This award is a great honor,” she said.

Iversen’s early work involved exercise trials for patients with arthritis to determine the impact of regular exercise. As her career has evolved, her research has become more focused on behavioral counseling — particularly in promoting physical activity.

Over the years, she says, evidence has piled up that correctly-performed exercise can help maintain joint health and provide benefits to the heart and lungs, while new medications can even help reduce joint erosion.

Through one of her grants, funded by the National Institutes of Health, Iversen is developing physical activity counseling for patients with arthritis. Through another research collaboration, she is exploring the use of Tai chi to promote physical activity and reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis.

In addition, Iversen is involved as a behavioral scientist in clinical trials at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, designing interventions with various interviewing techniques to help patients on Medicare adhere to their osteoporosis medication requirements.

“It’s not that easy to change your lifestyle to be physically active, even if there’s not a chronic illness you’re dealing with,” Iversen said. “So these strategies are important, for exercise and for taking medications.”

View selected publications of Maura Iversen in IRis, Northeastern’s digital archive.