The goal of our work is to understand how the musculoskeletal and nervous systems interact to contribute to the development of musculoskeletal conditions across the lifespan. We also are interested in how psychosocial and environmental factors impact these interactions.

Musculoskeletal conditions are among the most disabling and costly conditions experienced by Americans and are the leading cause of physical disability in the United States. Treatments that prevent or lessen the long-term impact of these conditions are needed. Our major funded studies have focused on low back pain (LBP) conditions. These studies have included testing the reliability and validity of a classification system for non-specific LBP as well as understanding the relationships between posture and movement characteristics and variables such as symptoms, sex, activity demands, and neural and musculoskeletal factors. We also have examined the efficacy of different non-surgical treatments for people with LBP and explored the role of adherence on short- and long-term outcomes.

Faculty Investigator

Linda Van Dillen, PT, PhD, FAPTA [Profile ]
Vanessa Lanier, PT, DPT, OCS [Profile]


Chris Peterson, PT, DPT, OCS
McKenna Chapman, BS

PhD Students

Kayla Krueger, PT, DPT


Kaitlyn Dutzy, SPT
Amy Kang, SPT
Yi Kang, SPT
Mo Moeslein, SPT
Shauna Montoya, SPT

Current Funding and Collabortions

  • NIH/NICHD RO1 HD108240: Significance of Spinal Movement Impairments in Acute Low Back Pain
  • NIH/NICCIH  U24ATo11978: SPINE-WORK: An Inclusive Research Community to Study and Improve Force-Based Manipulations for Spine Pain
  • NIH/NICHD K23 HD100569: Low Back Pain in Parkinson Disease
  • Academy of Orthopedic Physical Therapy, APTA P19-03313:  Impact of Hip Structure and Function on the Clinical Presentation of Low Back Pain

Current Research Studies

Significance of Spinal Movement Impairments in Acute Low Back Pain

The course of recovery from acute LBP is variable and many people have incomplete recovery.  We are going to examine people with an acute episode of low back pain.  We will identify movements and postures that may or may not be associated with recovery, and if they are similar to the impairments that were previously identified as relevant to the course or recovery in people with chronic low back pain.   The participants will be followed to see who recovers and who develops chronic low back pain.  This information will help determine if person-specific movements and postures used during function might be a clinical biomarker for recovery from acute low back pain and a potential treatment target for those who are at risk of incomplete recovery to improve the long-term course of the back pain condition.

Risk Factors for LBP Development during Static Postures

We are working to understand risk factors contributing to the development of LBP during standing. We are using a functional, prolonged loading paradigm in which back-healthy people and people with LBP stand for 2 hours performing simulated light work tasks while LBP symptoms are monitored. We are also exploring the role of sensory processing as a risk factor, as well as various aspects of motor behavior during the standing task. Our work in this area is particularly intriguing because it will allow us to identify variables in multiple domains that put a person at risk before clinical LBP is manifested.