Christopher, an assistant professor of physical therapy, received the award at the American Physical Therapy Combined Sections Meeting.
On Friday, Feb. 23, 2023, Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy Shefali Christopher was awarded the Academy of Pelvic Health Physical Therapy Research award. This award was presented to Christopher at the American Physical Therapy Association’s Combined Sections Meeting held Feb. 23-25 in San Diego, California, one of the biggest physical therapy conferences with over 15,000 attendants this year.
The award recognizes an individual who has conducted clinical research, education research, and/or basic science research pertaining to pelvic and/or women’s health physical therapy that will have a significant positive impact on future research, education and clinical practice in the field.
Amanda Olson is a leader in the field of pelvic health physical therapy and is president of health products company Intimate Rose who nominated Christopher for the award. In her nomination, she emphasized how prolific Christopher has been in her research and publications of the postpartum population during the past three years and highlighted her dedication to improving care for the perinatal person in the fourth trimester. Olson also spoke to Christopher’s other service including serving as the guest editor for the Journal of Women’s and Pelvic Health Physical Therapy special issue, “The Female Athlete: Optimizing Health and Performance.”
Christopher was quick to acknowledge the role Elon University has played in supporting this research. “While I started the exploration of running-related pain in postpartum runners as part of my Ph.D. work, it was at Elon that I was able to do practice-changing research,” Christopher said. “The Gerald Francis Center’s biomechanics laboratory has enabled me to collect biomechanics data and compare runners that have had children to runners that have not. It’s novel work that doesn’t exist due to the difficulty in this type of research.”
Christopher said new mothers have several barriers to exercise already, making it very difficult for them to come to Elon for data collection for the research. If not for Doctor of Physical Therapy program students who have dedicated time and energy to collecting data whenever possible since 2018, this kind of data would be non-existent.
Christopher insists that although this award was given to her, it should have the team’s name on it including former students Rebba Maylone ’20, Lindsey Bauer G’20, and Haley Barak G’20, Kim Colby G’21, Erin Kane G’21, Hannah Janssen G’21, as well as current students Megan McCalister G’23, Tyler Carol G’23, Emily Boger G’23 and Allison Jackson G’23.
Christopher’s work would also not be possible without Associate Professor Srikant Vallabhajosula and his expertise in biomechanics research. “Collaborating with Srikant is a joy!” Christopher said. “He is extremely smart and always helps solve barriers.”
Christopher was also awarded the Pelvic Health Section Research Grant for $10,000 in 2023. The grant supports the work of Christopher with Vallabhajosula, Associate Professor of Exercise Science Svetlana Nepocatych and Assistant Professor Angela Sponteli Gisselman with Tufts University as well as students Koehna Fox G’24, Liam McCullough G’24, Haley Langley G’24 and James Gersosa G’24. They are following runners through pregnancy and postpartum to monitor biomechanical, musculoskeletal and physiological changes during this lifespan stage.
Information on how to return to a high-impact sport like running has been largely based on expert opinion. Christopher and her team will be crucial in understanding how athletic bodies navigate pregnancy and if formal rehabilitation guidelines are needed for a successful return to exercise and sport postpartum.
Christopher was also accepted to present five different two-hour educational sessions this year. Talks focused on the postpartum runner, biomechanics of the postpartum runner, endurance considerations for the postpartum runner, wearable technology, and a panel called “Women in Sports: Making More Seats at the Table.”
“I am so relieved that people are finally interested in learning about the female athlete,” Christoper said, reflecting on her speaking engagements. “My favorite session though was the panel. I hope many young physical therapists get to choose a rewarding career in sports medicine like I have”.