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Sandra Saavedra - Collaborating Globally, Informing Locally

Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy Sandra Saavedra may be new to the University of Hartford, but she has had immediate impact on the community through her research and teaching. Saavedra’s research focuses on segmental assessment of trunk control in physical therapy practice. Typically, physical therapists treat the central torso as one unit, assessing trunk control as a patient’s ability to sit independently. However, Saavedra’s research emphasizes splitting the trunk into segments such as the shoulders, upper thoracic region, and abdomen for both assessment and treatment of disabilities. This allows the physical therapist better accuracy for diagnosing and targeting treatment of trunk control disorders, particularly in children who suffer from diseases such as cerebral palsy.

Saavedra has used an international approach to translating her research into community practice through her collaboration with Penelope Butler and Sarah Bew, from The Movement Centre in Oswestry, England. Butler created a clinical technique called Targeted Training, based on segmental trunk control, that she has been offering in the United Kingdom for 17 years. Saavedra has subsequently teamed up with Derek Curtis, a physiotherapist and researcher from Hvidvore Hospital and University of Copenhagen, to examine the assumptions and outcomes of Butler’s technique and make it more accessible to clinicians around the world.

Recently, the collaborators held a series of in-service training sessions at local medical facilities (e.g., Connecticut Children’s Medical Center) as well as provided two sessions at the Connecticut Physical Therapy Fall Conference. For clinicians involved in pediatric movement disorders, these training sessions show them how to use the segmental approach to assessing trunk instability.  Consequently, they are able to develop very specific treatment plans. This is only the second time that the technique has been offered to children in the United States. Saavedra’s goal, along with her collaborative team, is to increase opportunities for exposure to this novel treatment paradigm so that pediatric patients can receive therapy that will improve their movement control, task accomplishment, and reactions to physical stimuli.

Saavedra Research Group
Sarah Bew, Sandra Saavedra. Penny Butler, and Derek Curtis at the Connecticut Physical Therapy Association Conference (fall 2013)

Saavedra notes that one of the most rewarding aspects of her research agenda is the ability to translate her findings into clinical practice and provide community training that will directly help clinicians and pediatric patients in the greater Hartford area. Moreover, she acknowledges the thrill of collaborating with investigators from different countries to impact her local community. While it might seem formidable to work with researchers across the Atlantic Ocean, Saavedra marvels at the ability of technological advances in communication and videoconferencing to bring international expertise to her lab at University of Hartford—creating a truly global classroom.